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What is West Nile Encephalitis & Is it Contagious | Incubation Period, Symptoms, Treatment of West Nile Encephalitis

What is West Nile Encephalitis?

West Nile Encephalitis is a febrile disease caused by West Nile virus.(1) This virus was first found in Uganda and is named after the place in which it was found. The virus is originally found in birds and it gets transmitted to a common culex mosquito after the mosquito bites the infected bird. The infected culex mosquito then passes the virus to human beings when they are bitten by this mosquito. The virus causing West Nile Encephalitis is an arbovirus.

When was West Nile Encephalitis Discovered?

The virus causing West Nile Encephalitis was discovered in 1937 in Uganda in the blood of a person suffering from high temperature.(1) From then, the virus has spread to several countries, such as America, Southern Europe and The Middle East. In USA, the first outbreak of this disease occurred in 1999 in New York. The West Nile Virus was declared endemic in USA in 2002.

In-Depth About West Nile Virus

The west Nile virus is an arbovirus.(1) An arbovirus is a virus that is transmitted from an animal host to an insect. The main objective of these types of viruses is to multiply and make more of them. These viruses consist of fragments of genetic material called nucleic acid. These kinds of viruses need a host to multiply because they don’t have the capability to multiply independently; hence, they enter the host and borrow bits of machinery.

Is West Nile Encephalitis Contagious?

The virus causing West Nile Encephalitis is spread primarily between crows and pigeons via Culex mosquitoes. An individual can get the infection when bitten by the infected mosquito, but the virus is not transferred from human being to human being. It is not proved whether a human being can get infected with the virus causing West Nile Encephalitis, i.e. west Nile virus from handling dead or living infected birds. However, it is advisable not to make barehanded contact with dead animals.

Incubation Period of West Nile Encephalitis

The period from getting infected to showing the first symptoms of West Nile Encephalitis is mainly 3 to 14 days.(1)

Symptoms of West Nile Encephalitis

The symptoms of West Nile Encephalitis includes: headache, body ache, high fever and chills accompanied by swollen lymph glands and skin rash.(1) But, most of the people who are affected by this infection do not show these symptoms.

Diagnosis of West Nile Encephalitis

The presence of West Nile Encephalitis infection can be made by the following tests:

Blood Test: if you are infected by the West Nile virus, then the huge level of antibodies in your blood can be an indication of your body fighting against this virus.(1) An antibody is a protein produced by our body to fight against foreign substances.

Lumbar Puncture (Spinal Tap): This is the most common way to diagnose meningitis. A needle is inserted in your spinal cord between the lower vertebrae to extract a sample of fluid for analysis. If the sample shows an increased white blood cell count, then this could be an indication that your immune system is fighting against an infection (West Nile Encephalitis).

Brain Tests: A procedure that measures your brain’s activity called an electroencephalography (EEG) or an MRI scan can be helpful in determining brain inflammation.

Treatment of West Nile Encephalitis

The treatment for West Nile Encephalitis is not specified.(1) In most cases, the treatment is treating the complications of the infection, such as raised pressure within the skull, fever and aches, low blood pressure, convulsions and blood loss.

Preventive Measures Against West Nile Encephalitis

The preventative measures against West Nile Encephalitis include avoiding being bitten by mosquitoes that are infected by the virus. You can do this by using an insect spray, sleeping under bed-nets, avoiding areas with stagnant water, wearing long sleeved shirts and long pants.(1)

Vaccine for West Nile Encephalitis

There is no vaccine to protect against this infection in humans.(1) However, there are vaccines for horses and other animals against West Nile Encephalitis. Several vaccines are being tested for West Nile Encephalitis for humans.


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Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 19, 2020

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