West Nile Virus Infection: Causes & Symptoms

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West Nile Virus (WNV) was first identified in East Africa more than 70 years ago and was largely localized in that area until the 1990s, when it began spreading throughout Asia, Europe, and the Americas. There is no vaccine against West Nile virus infection, and prevention is still considered the best way of protecting yourself. Also, it is very important to understand the causes and symptoms of this infection.

Although not all cases are fatal, nor are all humans susceptible to the disease, it can be fatal in many cases. Over 280 people died in the United States in the largest outbreak of the virus in 2012.

What is West Nile Virus?

This zoonotic arbovirus is transmitted by a mosquito which has previously bitten an infected bird, then biting a person. Since the primary vector of West Nile virus is a mosquito it is particularly hard to prevent, especially if you live in a swampy or mosquito-friendly climate.


Approximately 80% of people infected with West Nile virus will show no symptoms, but regular symptoms include:

  • Muscle pain
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Skin rashes

Less than 1% of those infected develop serious symptoms, which can be fatal if not treated properly. These more serious symptoms often manifest in neurological diseases, including encephalitis and meningitis, both of which directly affect the brain and can result in death, as well as paralysis or West Nile fever ( the most common symptom that affects approximately 20% of infected patients).

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