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Articles » West Nile Virus Questions and Answers: DVBID

West Nile Virus Questions and Answers: DVBID

Article title: West Nile Virus Questions and Answers: DVBID

Conditions: West Nile virus

Source: DVBID

Questions and Answers


Overview of West Nile Virus

Q. What is West Nile encephalitis?
"Encephalitis" means an inflammation of the brain and can be caused by viruses and bacteria, including viruses transmitted by mosquitoes. West Nile encephalitis is an infection of the brain caused by West Nile virus, 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.

Q. Where did West Nile virus come from?
West Nile virus has been commonly found in humans and birds and other vertebrates in Africa, Eastern Europe, West Asia, and the Middle East, but until 1999 had not previously been documented in the Western Hemisphere. It is not known from where the U.S. virus originated, but it is most closely related genetically to strains found in the Middle East.

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Q. Historically, where has West Nile encephalitis occurred worldwide?
See the map describing distribution of flaviviruses, including West Nile virus:

Q. How long has West Nile virus been in the U.S.?
It is not known how long it has been in the U.S., but CDC scientists believe the virus has probably been in the eastern U.S. since the early summer of 1999, possibly longer.

Q. How many cases of West Nile encephalitis in humans have occurred in the U.S.?
In 1999, 62 cases of severe disease, including 7 deaths, occurred in the New York area. In 2000, 21 cases were reported, including 2 deaths in the New York City area.  In 2001, there were 66 human cases of severe disease and 9 deaths. No reliable estimates are available for the number of cases of West Nile encephalitis that occur worldwide.

Q. I understand West Nile virus was found in "overwintering" mosquitoes in the New York City area in early 2000. What does this mean?
One of the species of mosquitos found to carry West Nile virus is the Culex species which survive through the winter, or "overwinter," in the adult stage. That the virus survived along with the mosquitoes was documented by the widespread transmission the summer of 2000.

Q. Do the findings indicate that West Nile virus is established in the Western Hemisphere?
The continued expansion of West Nile virus in the United States indicates that it is permanently established in the Western Hemisphere.

Q. Is the disease seasonal in its occurrence?
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.


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