Lisa Whelchel is “Survivor” of West Nile Virus

Actress Lisa Whelchel has learned a lot about what it takes to survive in the wild from her current stint as a cast member of Survivor:Phillipines.

Hopefully those lessons will serve her well in dealing with her current struggle: with West Nile Virus.

Whelchel, 41, best known as preppy Blair Warner on the 80’s sitcom Facts of Life, made the announcement on Twitter:

It is not clear when (or where) she contracted the disease. The current season of Survivor wrapped up filming in April.

What You Need to Know about West Nile Virus

West Nile virus (WNV) is an infectious disease that first appeared in the United States in 1999. Infected mosquitoes spread the virus that causes it.

How is WNV spread?

The first step in the transmission cycle of West Nile virus (WNV) happens when a mosquito bites an infected bird or animal and gets the virus while feeding on the animal’s blood. The infected mosquito can then transmit the virus to another bird or animal when it feeds again.

Although the virus usually cycles between mosquitoes and birds, infected female mosquitoes also can transmit WNV through their bites to humans and other “incidental hosts,” such as horses.

What are the symptoms of WNV?

Approximately 80 percent of people (about 4 out of 5) who are infected with WNV will not show any symptoms at all.

Those who do have mild symptoms (up to 20 percent of people infection) experience fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back (flu-like symptoms). Symptoms can last for as short as a few days or as long as several weeks.

About one in 150 people infected with WNV will develop severe illness. Symptoms of serious illness include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis (symptoms of encephalitis). These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent.

How Is WNV Infection Treated?

There is no specific treatment for WNV infection. In cases with milder symptoms, people experience symptoms such as fever and aches that pass on their own, although even healthy people have become sick for several weeks. In more severe cases, people usually need to go to the hospital where they can receive supportive treatment including intravenous fluids, help with breathing and nursing care.

What Is the Risk of Getting Sick from WNV?

People over 50 are at higher risk to get severe illness. They are more likely to develop serious symptoms of WNV if they do get sick and should take special care to avoid mosquito bites.

Being outside means you’re at risk. The more time you’re outdoors, the more time you could be bitten by an infected mosquito. Pay attention to avoiding mosquito bites if you spend a lot of time outside, either working or playing.


There are no vaccines to prevent illness in people from West Nile virus. The CDC recommends the following measures to prevent mosquito bites:

  • Use insect repellent containing an EPA-registered active ingredient when you are outside. Follow the directions on the package.
  • Be sure to use insect repellent and wear long sleeves and pants at dusk and dawn when many mosquitoes are most active. or consider staying indoors during these hours.
  • Make sure you have good screens on your windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out.
  • Get rid of mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water.  Water should be dumped from flower pots, buckets and barrels. Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out. Keep children’s wading pools empty and on their sides when they aren’t being used. Change the water in pet dishes and replace the water in bird baths weekly.

Source: Centers for Disease Control


Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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