West Nile Virus

The West Nile Virus can bring on an illness that is linked to two different types of encephalitis. The virus can be found in wild bird species and can be passed on to mosquitoes when the insects feed on the birds’ blood. The virus can then be transmitted to humans when the mosquito finds a human to feed on. It is a zoonotic arbovirus that is part of the genus Flavivirus from the Flaviviridae family.

The year West Nile Virus was discovered in New York City was 1999, and marked the first reported outbreak of the virus in North America. It is believed that the virus was first discovered in 1937 in Northern Uganda, after which point it had spread to many parts of Africa, the Middle East, Russia, Europe, and India.

Although the bite of an infected mosquito is usually how West Nile Virus is transmitted, there have been a few occasions when the virus was transmitted to a baby from its mother at the time of pregnancy or through breast milk. Other rare instances of transference include blood transfusions, organ replacement, and research labs. You cannot contract the virus by just standing next to someone who has it or by touching birds that carry the disease. Furthermore, you cannot contract West Nile Virus from eating animals that carry the virus.


The majority of people who contract West Nile Virus do not get sick, but approximately 1 out of 5 people that show signs of being infected will develop a fever, head pain, muscle weakness, joint discomfort, diarrhea, a rash, or an upset stomach. Vomiting may also occur. The number of people that experience neurological problems is far fewer, but those that do may develop encephalitis or meningitis. Neurologic illnesses such as these can lead to seizures, coma, paralysis, and death.

Diagnosis of the virus can be accomplished by testing the blood or cerebrospinal fluid to see if West Nile Virus antibodies are present. Another way to detect if a person is infected with the virus is to do a culture on the serum, cerebrospinal fluid, and tissue samples. A CT scan of the head, an MRI scan of the head, and a complete blood count may also be taken.


Treatment for West Nile Virus does not exist, but medication to alleviate head pain as well as treatment for dehydration caused by vomiting may be given. If encephalitis develops, the patient will be monitored closely for an increase of pressure on the brain and for seizures. A ventilator will be required if a patient cannot breathe due to encephalitis or poliomyelitis.


Since there is no vaccine for the virus, prevention is paramount. The way to protect yourself from becoming infected is to stay clear of mosquitoes. Dress in long pants and long-sleeved shirts when you go outside to protect your skin from bites. Stay indoors during the early hours of the day and during the latter part of the day since this is the time when mosquitoes are more energetic. Also, use a bug repellent that meets EPA standards. Measures that can be taken to keep mosquitoes away from your property include manicuring bushes around your home and eliminating areas of pooled, standing water. Also, make sure the screens on your windows do not have holes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is an insignificant amount of information on the long-term prognosis for West Nile Virus. A study on New York City inhabitants who contracted the virus in 1999 revealed just 37 percent of these people completely recovered in 12 months. Younger people were more apt to experience complete recovery.