What Is West Nile Virus?
West Nile virus infection can cause serious disease. WNV is established as a seasonal epidemic in North America that flares up in the summer and continues into the fall. This fact sheet contains important information that can help you recognize and prevent West Nile virus.
What Can I Do to Prevent WNV?
The easiest and best way to avoid WNV is to prevent mosquito bites.
- When outdoors, use repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, some oil of lemon eucalyptus or paramenthane- diol. Follow the directions on the package.
- Many mosquitoes are most active from dusk to dawn. Be sure to use insect repellent and wear long sleeves and pants at these times 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 from flower pots, buckets and barrels. Change the water in pet dishes and replace the water in bird baths weekly. Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out. Keep children’s wading pools.
What Are the Symptoms of WNV?
- Serious Symptoms in a Few People. About 1 in 150 people infected with WNV will develop severe illness. The severe symptoms can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent.
- Milder Symptoms in Some People. Up to 20 percent of the people who become infected will have symptoms which can include fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. Symptoms can last for as short as a few days to as long as several weeks.
- No Symptoms in Most People. Approximately 80 percent of people who are infected with WNV will not show any symptoms at all, but there is no way to know in advance if you will develop an illness or not.
How Does West Nile Virus Spread?
- Infected Mosquitoes.
WNV is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds. Infected mosquitoes can then spread WNV to humans and other animals when they bite.
- Transfusions, Transplants, and Mother-to-Child.
In a very small number of cases, WNV also has been spread directly from an infected person through blood transfusions, organ transplants, breastfeeding and during pregnancy from mother to baby.
- Not through touching.
WNV is not spread through casual contact such as touching or kissing a person with the virus.
How Soon Do Infected People Get Sick?
People typically develop symptoms between 3 and 14 days after they are bitten by the infected mosquito.
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 illness may last weeks to months. 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 Should I Do if I Think I Have WNV?
Milder WNV illness improves on its own, and people do not need to seek medical attention for this infection though they may choose to do so. If you develop symptoms of severe WNV illness, such as unusually severe headaches or confusion, seek medical attention immediately. Severe WNV illness usually requires hospitalization. Pregnant women and nursing mothers are encouraged to talk to their doctor if they develop symptoms that could be WNV.
What Is the Risk of Getting Sick from WNV?
- People over 50 at higher risk to get severe illness.
People over the age of 50 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 time outside, either working or playing.
- Risk through medical procedures is very low.
All donated blood is checked for WNV before being used. The risk of getting WNV through blood transfusions and organ transplants is very small, and should not prevent people who need surgery from having it. If you have concerns, talk to your doctor.
What Is CDC Doing About WNV?
CDC is working with state and local health departments, the Food and Drug Administration and other government agencies, as well as private industry, to prepare for and prevent new cases of WNV.
Some things CDC is doing include:
- Coordinating a nation-wide electronic database where states share information about WNV.
- Helping states develop and carry out improved mosquito prevention and control programs.
- Developing better, faster tests to detect and diagnose WNV
- Creating new education tools and programs for the media, the public, and health professionals.
- Working with partners to develop vaccines.
What Else Should I Know?
West Nile virus infects birds. In nature, West Nile virus cycles between mosquitoes and birds. Some infected birds can develop high levels of the virus in their bloodstream and mosquitoes can become infected by biting these infected birds. Some, but not all infected birds get sick and die of disease. One way health officials conduct surveillance for West Nile virus is by testing local birds. Finding dead birds may be a sign that West Nile virus is circulating between birds and the mosquitoes in an area. By reporting dead birds to state and local health departments, you can play an important role in monitoring West Nile virus. State and local agencies have different policies for collecting and testing birds, so check with your county or state health department to find information about reporting dead birds in your area.
If you find a dead bird: Don’t handle the body with your bare hands. Contact your local health department for instructions on reporting and disposing of the body. They may tell you to dispose of the bird after they log your report.
For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/westnile, or call CDC at 800-CDC-INFO (English and Spanish) or 888-232-6348 (TTY).
Source: West Nile Virus (WNV) Fact Sheet, CS242240-A, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention