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West Niles Update


West Niles Virus

West Niles Information

West Niles in Atlanta

In 2003 West Nile cases in Georgia have been more severe than the national average, although the state reported fewer cases.

Last year, Georgia reported 44 human cases of the disease and seven (7) deaths, mostly in metro Atlanta and South Georgia. This year 14 people that have been reported with the virus, half have had severe symptoms including meningitis and encephalitis. Nationally, less than 30% of West Nile cases have caused severe symptoms.


Since West Nile virus (WNV) was first isolated in 1937, it has been known to cause asymptomatic infection and fevers in humans in Africa , West Asia , and the Middle East . Human and animal infections were not documented in the Western Hemisphere until 1999. In 1999 and 2000, outbreaks of WNV encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) were reported in persons living in the New York City metropolitan area, New Jersey , and Connecticut . In these two years, 83 human cases of West Nile illness were reported; 9 died. In 2001, human infection with WNV occurred in 10 states with 66 cases and 9 deaths. In 2002, WNV activity spread to 44 states, with 4,156 human cases and 284 deaths.

WNV is transmitted to humans through mosquito bites. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds that have high levels of WNV in their blood. Infected mosquitoes can then transmit WNV when they feed on humans or other animals.

WNV is not transmitted from person to person and there is no evidence that a person can get infected by handling live or dead infected birds. But, to add a further level of safety, if birds or other potentially infected animals must be handled, a protective barrier (e.g., gloves, inverted plastic bags) should be used.

Most WNV infected humans have no symptoms. A small proportion develops mild symptoms that include fever, headache, body aches, skin rash and swollen lymph glands. Less than 1% of infected people develop more severe illness that includes meningitis (inflammation of one of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord) or encephalitis. The symptoms of these illnesses can include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, and paralysis. Of the few people that develop encephalitis, a small proportion die but, overall, this is estimated to occur in less than 1 out of 1000 infections.

There is no specific treatment for WNV infection or vaccine to prevent it. Treatment of severe illnesses includes hospitalization, use of intravenous fluids and nutrition, respiratory support, prevention of secondary infections, and good nursing care. Medical care should be sought as soon as possible for persons who have symptoms suggesting severe illness.

Individuals can reduce their contacts with mosquitoes by taking these actions:

  • When outdoors, wear clothing that covers the skin such as long sleeve shirts and pants
  • Apply effective insect repellent to clothing and exposed skin
  • Curb outside activity during the hours that mosquitoes are feeding which often include dawn and dusk.
  • In addition, screens should be applied to doors and windows and regularly maintained to keep mosquitoes from entering the home

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