Q: What is West Nile
A: West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause
encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation
of the lining of the brain and spinal cord).
Q: How is West Nile virus
A: West Nile virus is spread to humans by the bite of an
infected mosquito. A mosquito becomes infected by biting a bird
which carries the virus. You or your child cannot get West Nile
virus from a person who has the disease. West Nile virus is not
spread by person-to-person contact such as touching, kissing, or
caring for someone who is infected.
Q: What are the symptoms
of West Nile virus?
A: In last year's outbreak, most people who were infected
with the West Nile virus had no symptoms or experienced mild illness
with fever, headache and body aches before fully recovering. In
outbreaks in other parts of the world, some persons also developed a
mild rash or swollen lymph glands. In some individuals, particularly
the elderly, West Nile virus can cause serious disease that affects
brain tissue. At its most serious, it can cause permanent
neurological damage and can be fatal. Encephalitis (inflammation of
the brain) symptoms include the rapid onset of severe headache, high
fever, stiff neck, confusion, loss of consciousness (coma), and
muscle weakness. Death may occur in some instances.
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: What is the incubation
period in humans (i.e., time from infection to onset of disease
symptoms) for West Nile encephalitis?
A: Usually 5 to 15 days.
Q: I've been bitten by a
mosquito. Should I be tested for West Nile virus?
A: No. Most mosquitoes are not infected with the West Nile
virus. Illnesses related to mosquito bites are rare, especially in
New York City. However, you should see a doctor immediately if you
develop symptoms such as high fever, confusion, muscle weakness,
severe headaches, stiff neck, or if your eyes become sensitive to
light. Patients with mild symptoms should recover completely, and do
not require any specific medication or laboratory testing.
Q: How is West Nile
A: There is no specific therapy. In more severe cases,
intensive supportive therapy is indicated, i.e., hospitalization,
intravenous (IV) fluids and nutrition, airway management,
ventilatory support (ventilator) if needed, prevention of secondary
infections (pneumonia, urinary tract, etc.), and good nursing care.
Q: What proportion of
people die when infected with West Nile virus?
A: Fewer than 1% of people infected with West Nile virus
develop encephalitis, and among those hospitalized with West Nile
encephalitis, the case fatality rate ranges from 3% to 15%.
Therefore, less than 1 in 1,000 of people infected with West Nile
Q: Is there a vaccine
against West Nile virus?
For more information about
West Nile virus, call the New York City Department of Health West
Nile Information Line, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at (877)
WNV-4NYC or (877) 968-4692.