Media coverage of the growing number of cases of West Nile Virus infection has been almost constant over the past few months. There is no doubt that the virus is spreading throughout North America and eventually may become an epidemic, but what does this mean for people with HIV/AIDS? First, people who get very sick or die from West Nile Virus include the elderly or those with weakened immune systems (such as transplant recipients, people on chemotherapy, or people with advanced HIV disease). Many healthy people who get the virus do not get sick or even know they have an infection. Obviously, the lower your T-cell count, the weaker your immune system is likely to be.
Norma Brown, R.N., a Director of Patient Care at Houston's Tenet Park Plaza hospital, points out that most people who die from West Nile Virus infection usually have something else wrong with them that puts additional strain on their health. According to Dr. Joseph Gathe, the best way to treat someone hospitalized with West Nile Virus infection is to treat any other infections and give the patient lots of fluids and nutrition.
The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes that carry it. Incubation time for the virus to infect a person after transmission is anywhere from 5 to 19 days. Some people can actually develop antibodies to West Nile Virus, and definitive test results can usually be received within 48 hours. Symptoms of West Nile Virus infection include disorientation or confusion, altered mental state, and headache. Sometimes nausea or vomiting is also present. A fever is not always present. General precautions include using insect repellant containing the ingredient DEET (for example, OFF! brand repellent), staying indoors between dusk and dawn, wearing long sleeves and long pants when outdoors, and killing any mosquitoes found indoors (swatting or using a spray that kills flying insects).
Bottom Line: West Nile Virus infection kills very few people. Take general precautions (as listed above), especially if you have low T-cell counts (say, less than 200). Having HIV does not mean you will get sick or die from West Nile Virus infection.
On June 27, 2002, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a warning letter (www.fda.gov/foi/warning_letters/g3398d.htm) to Dr. Saiyid Rasheeq Wahid of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, regarding his alternative medicine "Dr. Wahid's Herbal Remedy." The product has been marketed to people with cancer and AIDS as a possible treatment or cure, with claims that the treatment has been "working well" in patients suffering from such diseases. Unfortunately, this is not the only case of AIDS treatment fraud. Both in this country and as far away as Thailand and Africa, products are sold as "cures" for many diseases. Without research and medical evaluation, treatments cannot be trusted to do what someone claims them to do, especially if money is changing hands. "Quacks" (people who promote and sell fake tonics, pills, potions, and other treatments) have been around since the beginning of medicine, if not earlier!
False treatments or hoaxes should not be confused with alternative or complementary medicines, which are not intended to cure or treat specific illnesses but are useful for relieving pain, reducing stress, decreasing depression, etc. More information is available at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Web site (www.nccam.nih.gov).
Bottom Line: For more information on AIDS treatment fraud, contact the Texas AIDS Health Fraud Network (800.758.5152 or www.tahfin.org). To report possible fraud, contact the FDA (888.463.6332 or www.fda.gov) or the Federal Trade Commission (877.382.4357 or www.ftc.gov).
This article was provided by The Center for AIDS. It is a part of the publication HIV Treatment ALERTS!. Visit CFA's website to find out more about their activities and publications.