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West Nile Virus Dangers

West Nile virus is a dangerous mosquito-borne illness affecting much of the U.S.

Mosquitoes spread West Nile virus even in very dry climates like in Arizona. It is bacteria from the mosquito bite that is the source of multiple problems and diseases, including the West Nile Virus (WNV).

West Nile virus is a dangerous disease transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. Hundreds of cases are reported each year, and probably many hundreds more go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. The disease can be present in a mild fever form or a severe encephalitic form.

West Nile virus facts.

  • West Nile virus (WNV) is a single-strand RNA virus of the familyFlaviviridae, genus Flavivirus. It is spread from birds to mosquitoes to humans.

  • In very rare instances, West Nile has been transmitted via blood transfusion and organ transplant.

  • Transmission of the virus from mother to fetus or through breastfeeding is still being evaluated. Talk to your doctor if you are infected and pregnant or breastfeeding.

  • West Nile virus cannot be spread from human to human except in the rare and unusual circumstances above.

  • Symptoms usually appear 3-14 days after being bitten by a mosquito carrying West Nile.

  • Seniors are more likely to develop the severe form of the disease, due to weaker immune systems.

  • Blood donations are screened for West Nile virus before being distributed.

  • The CDC is helping states develop and implement mosquito-control measures to reduce the risk of many mosquito-borne diseases including the West Nile virus.

  • West Nile virus can kill birds, though most survive infection. If you find a dead bird, do not handle it.

  • Pets can also become infected with West Nile virus.

  • Horses can become infected. The horse mortality rate is 40%. According to the CDC, there is a vaccine available from veterinarians for horses, but unfortunately none for humans, yet.


West Nile symptoms.

West Nile virus victims often suffer with fevers, flu or cold like symptoms. Many people that have it mistake it for a bad cold or flu.

2009 West Nile virus activity as reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Serious symptoms may last several weeks and neurological effects may even become permanent. Treatment should be sought immediately if these symptoms are exhibited. Hospitalization is usually required for:

  • High fever

  • Headache

  • Neck stiffness

  • Stupor

  • Disorientation

  • Coma

  • Tremors

  • Convulsions

  • Muscle weakness

  • Loss of vision

  • Numbness

  • Paralysis


Milder symptoms may last for a few days to several weeks. These have no specific treatment and usually resolve themselves:

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Body aches

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Swollen lymph glands

  • Rash on the chest, stomach and back

Diagnosis of West Nile virus

Diagnosis is based on the presence of the disease in the locality (any recent travel should be noted to your physician) and the presence of symptoms. West Nile virus or other arboviral disease should be strongly considered when patients over 50 develop unexplained encephalitis or meningitis during mosquito season. Blood tests may confirm the presence of the disease, though prior infections or recent vaccinations can produce false positive results. Some specific testing guidelines can be found at the CDC website. When the disease is extremely serious, a spinal tap or brain imaging may be taken.

Treatment of West Nile virus

There is no specific course of treatment for West Nile virus. Most cases resolve themselves with no treatment. Even the most severe cases are typically treated only with supportive therapy such as intravenous fluids and painkillers. Interferon is being investigated as a treatment and shows some promise.

Prevention of West Nile virus

Prevention is key when it comes to West Nile virus. You can take a variety of simple measures to greatly reduce your exposure to disease-carrying mosquitoes. These are outlined on our page about mosquitoes.

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