West Nile Virus

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In the summer of 1999 the New York City Health Department battled a mysterious outbreak of encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) among a group of elderly people living near LaGuardia Airport. Tests revealed that it was West Nile virus, a disease never before seen outside of the Middle East.

The virus is carried by mosquitoes that take advantage of hot, wet summers in urban and suburban areas. "West Nile is extraordinarily good at adapting to this new environment,"23 said Ian Lipkin, director of the Jerome L. and Dawn Greene Infectious Disease Laboratory at Columbia University. Mosquitoes lay infected eggs in puddles, pools, overturned toys, garbage cans, and any other place rainwater can accumulate.

West Nile usually infects birds. People living in the suburbs of Chicago, one of the most heavily hit areas, reported an eerie silence where once songbirds trilled and crows cawed. No one knows why or how it got to the United States, but this versatile virus managed to quickly jump species once it arrived. It is now known to infect dozens of bird species, as well as humans, horses, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, bats, rare rhinoceroses in zoos, and wild alligators. These animals are only innocent bystanders in the virus's life cycle.

In order to cause disease, a mosquito must first bite an infected bird and pick up the virus, which ends up in the digestive tract of the mosquito, where it multiplies. While other arboviruses are carried inside the gut of only one or two species of insect, the West Nile virus has been found living in thirty-six different species of mosquito. The virus spreads throughout the mosquito's body, ending up in the salivary glands. When the mosquito bites its next victim, the virus is injected into the new host along with mosquito saliva.

Deer ticks like this one can carry Lyme disease, a viral infection that causes arthritis-like aches and pains.

Deer ticks like this one can carry Lyme disease, a viral infection that causes arthritis-like aches and pains.

In the short time since West Nile virus first appeared, scientists have learned a great deal about it. The virus's ability to replicate is closely related to the weather. At 70 degrees Fahrenheit, it takes the virus three weeks to multiply to a point where it is transferable to another animal. At 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the time is shortened to two weeks, and during spells with temperatures higher than 90 degrees Fahrenheit, it takes only one week. The hotter the weather, the more infectious the disease becomes. This information is not just interesting virus trivia; it is vital data that allows health officials to predict the severity of an outbreak by monitoring the weather. If a large outbreak is predicted, then officials may spray insecticides and issue health warnings to residents in the area. But even with early warnings, the dis-

West Nile Transmission

West Nile Transmission

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Responses

  • michelle washington
    Is westnile viral or bacterial?
    10 months ago
  • Goytiom
    Does west nile cause arthritis?
    3 months ago
  • zahra sayid
    Does west nile cause arithis?
    24 days ago

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