As is always the case, it is those who are least able to defend themselves that need our help the most. But when we talk about the potentially fatal viruses spread through by the mosquito, one of the most concerning is the West Nile virus (WNV).
Though in the United States we might think of the West Nile virus as an unfortunate thing that afflicts people elsewhere, we are wrong. Here in New Jersey, 2015 saw the last death caused by the virus when a resident of Wall was killed after contracting West Nile. And there’s little need to look too far back in time for the last major epidemic in the United States as a whole. Only in 2012 were 286 people killed by the virus.
For those with weak immune systems - specifically young babies and the elderly – the WNV is particularly dangerous. It is for this reason that we need to protect our loved ones against a disease that, though potentially fatal, can be quite easily prevented if we take the correct measures.
In this blog post we’ll focus on the West Nile virus, but there are other mosquito-born virus transmissions that should also be considered. Recently the Zika virus has posed a threat, particularly to pregnant women.
What is the West Nile Virus?
The West Nile virus is the catchall phrase for the production of a group of symptoms, usually showing themselves 2 - 15 days after infection which usually comes via the bite of a virus carrying mosquito.
Though the symptoms can be as simple as a mild head and fever, according to the Mayo Clinic the virus can also cause encephalitis (sudden swelling of the brain) and swelling of the spinal cord. There are also a host of less common side effects like nephritis (swelling of the kidneys) and myocarditis (swelling of heart muscle).
If a person is strongly affected by the virus and infection continues untreated, it can prove fatal.
The Elderly at Risk
The elderly are one of the main groups at risk from the West Nile virus. This is due, broadly speaking, to the delayed antibody response to virus infection.
Usually the immune system has two helpful immune cells, the “T” and the “B”, that migrate to the site of infection and interact to form a “germinal cancer” that forms antibodies to fight a virus. Tests on older mice have shown that with age there are fewer T cells, meaning there aren’t as many cells fighting infection. It is at this point that the virus can become dominant.
Children at Risk
With young children and babies there is a similar risk from the West Nile. The reason for this is that before 24 months of age, the immune system is not developed enough to defend itself from types of viruses that a mosquito can carry. It is therefore as important to offer protection to the young as to the elderly.
Though the risk to pregnant mothers and unborn fetuses is small, there is still a risk.
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