West Nile Virus

By Michael Biamonte, C.C.N.

Using Natural Medicine as an adjunct in the treatment of West Nile Disease


West Nile virus has been commonly found in humans and birds and other vertebrates in Africa, Eastern Europe, West Asia, and the Middle East, but until 1999 had not previously been documented in the Western Hemisphere. It is not known from where the U.S. virus originated, but it is most closely related genetically to strains found in the Middle East. It is not known how long it has been in the U.S., but CDC scientists believe the virus has probably been in the eastern U.S. since the early summer of 1999, possibly longer. In 1999, 62 cases of severe disease, including 7 deaths, occurred in the New York area. In the 1999 New York area epidemic, there was a large die-off of American crows. West Nile virus has been identified in more than 70 species of birds found dead in the United States. Most of these birds were identified through reporting of dead birds by the public. In 2000, 21 cases were reported, including 2 deaths in the New York City area. In 2001, there were 66 human cases of severe disease and 9 deaths. No reliable estimates are available for the number of cases of West Nile encephalitis that occur worldwide. In New York one of the species of mosquitoes found to carry West Nile virus is the Culex species, which survive through the winter, or “overwinter,” in the adult stage. That the virus survived along with the mosquitoes was documented by the widespread transmission the summer of 2000. The continued expansion of West Nile virus in the United States indicates that it is permanently established in the Western Hemisphere. In the temperate zone of the world (i.e., between latitudes 23.5° and 66.5° north and south), West Nile encephalitis cases occur primarily in the late summer or early fall. In the southern climates where temperatures are milder, West Nile virus can be transmitted year round.


West Nile Virus is actually a type of Encephalitis. Encephalitis” means an inflammation of the brain and can be caused by viruses and bacteria, including viruses transmitted by mosquitoes. West Nile encephalitis is an infection of the brain caused by West Nile virus, a flavivirus commonly found in Africa, West Asia, and the Middle East. It is closely related to St. Louis encephalitis virus found in the United States. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds, which may circulate the virus in their blood for a few days. Infected mosquitoes can then transmit West Nile virus to humans and animals while biting to take blood. The virus is located in the mosquito’s salivary glands. During blood feeding, the virus may be injected into the animal or human, where it may multiply, possibly causing illness. Even in areas where the virus is circulating, very few mosquitoes are infected with the virus. Even if the mosquito is infected, less than 1% of people who get bitten and become infected will get severely ill. The chances you will become severely ill from any one mosquito bite are extremely small. West Nile encephalitis is NOT transmitted from person-to-person. For example, you cannot get West Nile virus from touching or kissing a person who has the disease, or from a health care worker who has treated someone with the disease. Infected mosquitoes are the primary source for West Nile virus. Although ticks infected with West Nile virus have been found in Asia and Africa, their role in the transmission and maintenance of the virus is uncertain. However, there is no information to suggest that ticks played any role in the cases identified in the United States. Although the vast majority of infections have been identified in birds, WN virus has been shown to infect horses, cats, bats, chipmunks, skunks, squirrels, and domestic rabbits. There is no evidence that a person can get the virus from handling live or dead infected birds. However, persons should avoid barehanded contact when handling any dead animals and use gloves or double plastic bags to place the carcass in a garbage can.

Because of their outdoor exposure, game hunters may be at risk if they become bitten by mosquitoes in areas with West Nile virus activity. The extent to which West Nile virus may be present in wild game is unknown. Surveillance studies are currently underway in collaboration with the US Geological Survey (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center (in Madison, Wisconsin) and with state and local wildlife biologists and naturalists to answer this question

The same way humans become infected—by the bite of infectious mosquitoes, so can dogs and cats be infected. The virus is located in the mosquito’s salivary glands. During blood feeding, the virus is injected into the animal. The virus then multiplies and may cause illness. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds, which may circulate the virus in their blood for a few days. It is possible that dogs and cats could become infected by eating dead infected animals such as birds, but this is unproven.


All residents of areas where virus activity has been identified are at risk of getting West Nile encephalitis; persons over 50 years of age have the highest risk of severe disease. Most infections are mild, and symptoms include fever, headache, and body aches, occasionally with a skin rash on the trunk of the body and swollen lymph glands. The incubation period is 3 to 15 days after exposure.

More severe infection may be marked by headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, paralysis, and, rarely, death

Symptoms of mild disease will generally last a few days. Symptoms of severe disease may last several weeks, although neurological effects may be permanent.


There are no drugs to treat the virus and no vaccines available to prevent infection. Because West Nile virus is now established in the United States, scientists and health experts at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), along with public health officials, have enhanced research. This effort is part of NIAID’s comprehensive emerging infectious disease program, which supports research on bacterial, viral, and other types of disease-causing microbes.

NIAID Research

Research is underway to develop a vaccine, antiviral medicines, and new diagnostic assays for West Nile virus. Additionally, basic research is providing new clues about the virus itself, the disease in humans and animals, and how the virus is maintained in the environment. This knowledge is essential in developing strategies to prevent, treat, and eventually control this disease.

I can report that alternative practitioners have had success with a substance called Lomatium dissectum. There are no studies at this time and the reports are anecdotal.

It is a member of the parsley family growing in semi-arid climates in the northwest. Its large root has given it the name “biscuit root.” This plant has traditionally been used to fight many infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis.

Today, wild crafted lomatium is a part of many herbal formulas for relieving common colds and the flu. Although lomatium is abundant in some areas, concern has been raised over this plant for a number of reasons. First is the fact that the lomatium in commerce is almost exclusively wild crafted. At present, no one is cultivating lomatium on a commercial scale. In addition to this, the life cycle of lomatium is not well known, and it has been hypothesized that some of the large commercially harvested roots might be many, many years old. Since lomatium does not reproduce asexually, and only a very small percentage of its seeds ever germinate, this extremely long life span would mean that sustainable harvest of the root would be limited to a very small portion of the species population.

Lomatium root has been used as an effective anti-viral and anti-bacterial remedy, it is especially useful in the treatment of respiratory and urinary infections. This herb was used by the North American Indians as their most powerful herbal antibiotic. It has shown effective against a wide variety of bacteria and fungi in lab tests. This herb also has the ability to make the blood more alkaline, which is beneficial for many people who have too acidic blood. Also used to stimulate the immune system and decrease inflammation.