West Nile Virus Symptoms: How Do You Know If You Have The Mosquito-Borne Illness?

08/07/2012 01:45pm ET
This undated photo provided by the Northwest Mosquito Abatement District shows a Culex pipiens, left, the primary mosquito that can transmit West Nile virus to humans, birds and other animals. It is produced from stagnant water.ᅡᅠThe bite of this mosquito is very gentle and usually unnoticed by people. At right is an Aedes vexans, primarily a nuisance mosquito produced from freshwater. It is a very aggressive biting mosquito but not an important transmitter of disease. (AP Photo/courtesy the Northwestern Mosquito Abatement District)

West Nile virus has been popping up across the country over the last few days, from New York's Long Island, to Dallas, Texas, to the Phoenix-metro area in Arizona.

The Associated Press reported that cases of the virus are off to an early start -- with 241 in July alone, so far -- which may be the result of the early spring and hot summer. West Nile cases tend to be most common during the summer and fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since 1999, there have been 13,000 cases of serious West Nile virus, and 1,200 deaths from the virus, the CDC reported.

West Nile virus symptoms aren't always severe or apparent -- most people will not even know they have the virus, the Mayo Clinic reported. And in about one in five cases, the symptoms are mild (headache, fever or body aches) and go away by themselves.

But rarely -- less than 1 percent of cases -- symptoms will be severe and require hospitalization. When the symptoms are extreme, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), surrounding membranes or spinal cord (meningitis) can occur. When a case is serious, symptoms usually include having convulsions or tremors, confusion, terrible headache, high fever, paralysis of part of the body, and even coma, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The CDC added that in these severe cases, symptoms can last weeks, and some of the effects may never go away.

For most instances of West Nile virus that aren't serious, over-the-counter medicines can help with symptoms like headache or muscle aches, the Mayo Clinic reported. For more serious cases of West Nile that lead to encephalitis or meningitis, a person will need to receive treatment in a hospital to receive medicines and IVs.

West Nile virus is only spread to humans from mosquito bites, and it's not contagious between people, according to the New York City Department of Health. Mosquitoes become carriers of the virus when they bite a bird that has the virus.

The best way to protect yourself from West Nile is to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes, the CDC said. You can protect yourself by applying insect repellant, and doing your part to reduce mosquito breeding by getting rid of standing water, the New York City Department of Health said.

For more ways to avoid mosquito bites, click through the slideshow:

Natural Ways To Prevent Mosquito Bites