West Nile Virus
West Nile Virus Overview of West Nile Virus
Q: What are West Nile virus, West Nile fever, and West Nile encephalitis?
A.“West Nile Virus” is a flavivirus commonly found in Africa, West Asia, and the Middle East. It is closely related to St. Louis encephalitis virus found in the United States. The virus can infect humans, birds, mosquitoes, horses and some other mammals.
“West Nile fever” is a case of mild disease in people, characterized by flu-like symptoms. West Nile fever typically lasts only a few days and does not appear to cause any long-term health effects.
More severe disease due to a person being infected with this virus can be “West Nile encephalitis,” “West Nile meningitis” or “West Nile meningoencephalitis.” Encephalitis refers to an inflammation of the brain, meningitis is an inflammation of the membrane around the brain and the spinal cord, and meningoencephalitis refers to inflammation of the brain and the membrane surrounding it.
Q. Is the disease seasonal in its occurrence?
A. In the temperate zone of the world (i.e., between latitudes 23.5° and 66.5° north and south), West Nile encephalitis cases occur primarily in the late summer or early fall. In the southern climates where temperatures are milder, West Nile virus can be transmitted year round.
Q. How does West Nile virus actually cause severe illness and death in humans?
A. Following transmission by an infected mosquito, West Nile virus multiplies in the person's blood system and crosses the blood-brain barrier to reach the brain. The virus interferes with normal central nervous system functioning and causes inflammation of brain tissue.
Q. If a person contracts West Nile virus, does that person develop a natural immunity to future infection by the virus?
A. It is assumed that immunity will be lifelong; however, it may wane in later years.
Q. Who is at risk for getting West Nile encephalitis?
A. All residents of areas where virus activity has been identified are at risk of getting West Nile encephalitis; persons over 50 years of age have the highest risk of severe disease. There is no clear link between the level of a person's overall health and their risk of getting severe disease. For example, it is unknown if immunocompromised persons are a higher risk risk for the severe types of West Nile virus-related disease. This topic is under investigation by CDC scientists.
Transmission of West Nile Virus
Q. How do people get infected with West Nile virus?
A. People become infected by the bite of a mosquitoes infected with West Nile virus.
Q. What is the basic transmission cycle of West Nile virus?
A. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds, which may circulate the virus in their blood for a few days. Infected mosquitoes can then transmit West Nile virus to humans and animals while biting to take blood. The virus is located in the mosquito's salivary glands. During blood feeding, the virus may be injected into the animal or human, where it may multiply, possibly causing illness.
Q. If I live in an area where birds or mosquitoes with West Nile virus have been reported and a mosquito bites me, am I likely to get sick?
A. No. Even in areas where the virus is circulating, very few mosquitoes are infected with the virus. Even if the mosquito is infected, less than 1% of people who get bitten and become infected will get severely ill. The chances you will become severely ill from any one mosquito bite are extremely small.
Q. Can you get West Nile encephalitis from another person?
A. No. West Nile encephalitis is NOT transmitted from person-to-person. For example, you cannot get West Nile virus from touching or kissing a person who has the disease, or from a health care worker who has treated someone with the disease.
Q. Besides mosquitoes, can you get West Nile virus directly from other insects or ticks?
A. Infected mosquitoes are the primary source for West Nile virus. Although ticks infected with West Nile virus have been found in Asia and Africa, their role in the transmission and maintenance of the virus is uncertain. However, there is no information to suggest that ticks played any role in the cases identified in the United States.
Symptoms of West Nile Virus
Q. What are the symptoms of West Nile virus infection?
A. Most people who are infected with the West Nile virus will not have any type of illness. It is estimated that 20% of the people who become infected will develop West Nile fever: mild symptoms, including fever, headache, and body aches, occasionally with a skin rash on the trunk of the body and swollen lymph glands.
The symptoms of severe infection (West Nile encephalitis, meningitis, and meningoencephalitis) include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, and paralysis. It is estimated that 1 in 150 persons infected with the West Nile virus will develop a more severe form of disease.
Q. What is the incubation period in humans (i.e., time from infection to onset of disease symptoms) for West Nile encephalitis?
A. Usually 3 to 14 days.
Q. How long do symptoms last?
A. Symptoms of mild disease will generally last a few days. Symptoms of severe disease may last several weeks, although neurological effects may be permanent.
Prevention of West Nile Virus
Q. What can I do to reduce my risk of becoming infected with West Nile virus?A. Here are preventive measures that you and your family can take:
Protect yourself from mosquito bites:
Help reduce the number of mosquitoes in areas outdoors where you work or play, by draining sources of standing water. In this way, you reduce the number of places mosquitoes can lay their eggs and breed.
- Apply insect repellent sparingly to exposed skin. The more DEET a repellent contains the longer time it can protect you from mosquito bites. A higher percentage of DEET in a repellent does not mean that your protection is better—just that it will last longer. DEET concentrations higher than 50% do not increase the length of protection. Choose a repellent that provides protection for the amount of time that you will be outdoors.
- Repellents may irritate the eyes and mouth, so avoid applying repellent to the hands of children.
- Whenever you use an insecticide or insect repellent, be sure to read and follow the manufacturer's DIRECTIONS FOR USE, as printed on the product.
- For detailed information about using repellents, see the Insect Repellent Use and Safety questions.
- Spray clothing with repellents containing permethrin or DEET since mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing. Do not apply repellents containing permethrin directly to exposed skin. If you spray your clothing, there is no need to spray repellent containing DEET on the skin under your clothing.
- When possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants whenever you are outdoors.
- Place mosquito netting over infant carriers when you are outdoors with infants.
- Consider staying indoors at dawn, dusk, and in the early evening, which are peak mosquito biting times.
- Install or repair window and door screens so that mosquitoes cannot get indoors.
Note: Vitamin B and "ultrasonic" devices are NOT effective in preventing mosquito bites.
- At least once or twice a week, empty water from flower pots, pet food and water dishes, birdbaths, swimming pool covers, buckets, barrels, and cans.
- Check for clogged rain gutters and clean them out.
- Remove discarded tires, and other items that could collect water.
- Be sure to check for containers or trash in places that may be hard to see, such as under bushes or under your home.
Insect Repellent Use and Safety
Insect Repellent Use
Q. Why should I use insect repellent?
A. Insect repellents help people reduce their exposure to mosquito bites that may carry potentially serious viruses such as West Nile virus, and allow them to continue to play and work outdoors.
Q. When should I use mosquito repellent?
A. Apply repellent when you are going to be outdoors and will be at risk for getting bitten by mosquitoes.
Q. What time of day should I wear mosquito repellent?
A. Many of the mosquitoes that carry the West Nile virus are especially likely to bite around dusk and dawn. If you are outdoors around these times of the day, it is important to apply repellent. In many parts of the country, there are mosquitoes that also bite during the day, and these mosquitoes have also been found to carry the West Nile virus. The safest decision is to apply repellent whenever you are outdoors.
Q. How often should repellent be reapplied?
A. Follow the directions on the product you are using in order to determine how frequently you need to reapply repellent. Sweating, perspiration or getting wet may mean that you need to re-apply repellent more frequently. If you are not being bitten, it is not necessary to re-apply repellent. Repellents containing a higher concentration of active ingredient (such as DEET) provide longer-lasting protection.
Q. Which mosquito repellent works the best?
A. The most effective repellents contain DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide), which is an ingredient used to repel pests like mosquitoes and ticks. DEET has been tested against a variety of biting insects and has been shown to be very effective. The more DEET a repellent contains the longer time it can protect you from mosquito bites. A higher percentage of DEET in a repellent does not mean that your protection is better—just that it will last longer. DEET concentrations higher than 50% do not increase the length of protection.
Q. How does the percentage of DEET in a product relate to the amount of protection it gives?
A. Based on a recent study:
Choose a repellent that provides protection for the amount of time that you will be outdoors. A higher percentage of DEET should be used if you will be outdoors for several hours while a lower percentage of DEET can be used if time outdoors will be limited. You can also re-apply a product if you are outdoors for a longer time than expected and start to be bitten by mosquitoes. (For more information, see Table 1: Fradin and Day, 2002. See Publications page.)
- A product containing 23.8% DEET provided an average of 5 hours of protection from mosquito bites.
- A product containing 20% DEET provided almost 4 hours of protection
- A product with 6.65% DEET provided almost 2 hours of protection
- Products with 4.75% DEET and 2% soybean oil were both able to provide roughly 1 and a half hour of protection.
Q. Why does CDC recommend using DEET?
A. DEET is the most effective and best-studied insect repellent available. (Fradin, 1998). Studies using humans and mosquitoes report that only products containing DEET offer long-lasting protection after a single application.(Fradin and Day, 2002. See Publications page.)
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