West Nile fever is a viral infection typically spread by mosquitoes. In about 80% of infections people have few or no symptoms. About 20% of people develop a fever, headache, vomiting, or a rash. In less than 1% of people, encephalitis or meningitis occurs, with associated neck stiffness, confusion, or seizures. Recovery may take weeks to months. The risk of death among those in whom the nervous system is affected is about 10%.
West Nile virus (WNV) is typically spread by infected mosquitoes. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds. Rarely the virus is spread through blood transfusions, organ transplants, or from mother to baby during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding. It otherwise does not spread directly between people. Risks for severe disease include age over 60 and other health problems. Diagnosis is typically based on symptoms and blood tests.
There is no human vaccine. The best method to reduce the risk of infections is avoiding mosquito bites.This may be done by eliminating standing pools of water, such as in old tires, buckets, gutters, and swimming pools. Mosquito repellent, window screens, mosquito nets, and avoiding areas where mosquitoes occur may also be useful. While there is no specific treatment, pain medications may be useful.
WNV has occurred in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and North America. In the United States thousands of cases are reported a year, with most occurring in August and September. It can occur in outbreaks of disease. The virus was discovered in Uganda in 1937 and was first detected in North America in 1999. Severe disease may also occur in horses and a vaccine for these animals is available. A surveillance system in birds is useful for early detection of a potential human outbreak.