West Nile virus: What you need to know

Female Culex mosquito, courtesy: CDC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have confirmed studies of West Nile virus in 10 states. The chew of an contaminated mosquito mostly spreads the virus.

“West Nile virus is the leading cause of mosquito-borne illness in the U.S.,” says Dr. Bobbi Pritt, director of the Clinical Parasitology Laboratory at Mayo Clinic. 

It’s a flavivirus —a particular sort of RNA virus that may infect people, birds and horses.

“West Nile virus is transmitted predominantly through the bite of an infected mosquito. Less commonly, it can be transmitted through other means, like blood transfusion,” says Dr. Pritt. “The mosquito that is mostly implicated is the Culex mosquito, totally different from the Anopheles mosquito that transmits malaria.”

Watch: Dr. Bobbi Pritt talks about West Nile virus.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality soundbites together with b-roll video of ticks will be discovered within the downloads on the finish of the put up. Please courtesy: “Mayo Clinic News Network.” Name tremendous/CG: Bobbi Pritt, M.D./Microbiology/Mayo Clinic.


Most individuals contaminated with the West Nile virus don’t expertise any signs although some might develop a fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting and rash. While most individuals totally recuperate, some might expertise ongoing weak point and fatigue for months.

Severe signs from West Nile virus are unusual although individuals over 60 face a better threat of extreme sickness if contaminated. Those with medical circumstances, akin to cancer, diabetes, hypertension or kidney illness, or who’ve undergone organ transplants, are also at an elevated threat of great health problems due to the virus.

Severe signs affecting the nervous system develop in about 1 in 150 contaminated individuals, according to the CDC. Severe signs might embody irritation of the mind, referred to as encephalitis, or of the membranes surrounding the mind and spinal twine, referred to as meningitis.

Seek medical attention instantly if you have indicators or signs of a severe an infection, akin to extreme complications, a stiff neck, disorientation or confusion. Hospitalization is often needed for a severe an infection.

Testing and prognosis

“West Nile virus infection is usually diagnosed by detecting antibodies in a patient’s blood sample. It’s a type of test that we call serology,” says Dr. Pritt. “Mayo Clinic Laboratories also offers a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test that’s particularly good for the first day to several days of infection. Usually, PCR would be combined with serology so that you don’t miss infection.”

Read extra Mayo Clinic Laboratories’ West Nile virus test.


Mosquitoes can transmit quite a few dangerous pathogens, says Dr. Pritt, together with the West Nile virus and malaria. The greatest means to keep away from mosquito-borne sickness is to keep away from mosquitoes. 

Consider these tips:

• Use insect repellent with DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
• Wear permethrin-treated clothes whereas outside or within the woods.
• Empty standing water in outside areas, together with pet bowls and rain barrels.
• Install screens in home windows.

“There are also measures people can take to control mosquito populations around their home,” she says. “It’s important to know that mosquitoes breed and lay their eggs in bodies of water. One of those preventive measures is to remove standing bodies of water around the house, such as bird baths and other containers that may collect rainwater, for example. Then you could also pay to have the outside of your home professionally treated.”

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