In severe cases, patients may need to be admitted to the hospital to receive "supportive care," which includes treatment such as infusing fluids into a person's veins, supplemental nutrition or even the help of a breathing machine.
The good news is that people can take steps to protect themselves against West Nile.
The best way to prevent infection is to avoid mosquito bites. Avoid being outdoors at dawn and dusk when most mosquitoes feed.
If you do need to be outdoors, wear long sleeves, long pants, shoes and socks, along with insect repellant containing DEET. Adults should wear repellants with up to 30 percent DEET, while the American Academy of Pediatricians recommends 10 percent DEET for children between 2 and 12 years of age.
Never allow children to apply their own repellant, and never apply it to their hands.
Keeping screens on windows and doors in good repair will also keep mosquitoes from gaining access to your home.
Stopping mosquitoes from breeding will also help limit your exposure. Mosquito eggs are laid in standing water, so it is very important to empty all areas of standing water -- including flower pots, buckets, barrels, and children's swimming pools. Bird bath water and pet dishes should be changed every few days. Old tires and standing water on pool covers are very common breeding grounds for mosquitoes as well.
Be wary of dead birds. If you see a dead bird, do not touch the bird with your bare hands. Contact your state or local health department. They will give you instructions on how to dispose of the body or they may send someone to test the bird for the virus.
If you have the symptoms described above, call your physician and make him or her aware of you concerns.
If your symptoms are severe or you are having difficulty breathing or walking, or if you have confusion, you should call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Department immediately.
For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/westnile.
Dr. Abbigail Chandler is an infectious Disease physician with the Infectious Disease Associates of Tampa Bay.