West Nile virus (WNV) is typically spread by infected mosquitoes. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds. Rarely the virus is spread through blood transfusions, organ transplants, or from mother to baby during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding. It otherwise does not spread directly between people. Risks for severe disease include age over 60 and other health problems. Diagnosis is typically based on symptoms and blood tests.
WNV has occurred in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and North America. In the United States thousands of cases are reported a year, with most occurring in August and September. It can occur in outbreaks of disease. The virus was discovered in Uganda in 1937 and was first detected in North America in 1999. Severe disease may also occur in horses and a vaccine for these animals is available. A surveillance system in birds is useful for early detection of a potential human outbreak.
The incubation period for WNV—the amount of time from infection to symptom onset—is typically from between 2 and 15 days. Headache can be a prominent symptom of WNV fever, meningitis, encephalitis, meningoencephalitis, and it may or may not be present in poliomyelitis-like syndrome. Thus, headache is not a useful indicator of neuroinvasive disease.
West Nile virus encephalitis (WNE) is the most common neuroinvasive manifestation of WNND. WNE presents with similar symptoms to other viral encephalitis with fever, headaches, and altered mental status. A prominent finding in WNE is muscular weakness (30 to 50 percent of patients with encephalitis), often with lower motor neuron symptoms, flaccid paralysis, and hyporeflexia with no sensory abnormalities.
West Nile meningitis (WNM) usually involves fever, headache, and stiff neck. Pleocytosis, an increase of white blood cells in cerebrospinal fluid, is also present. Changes in consciousness are not usually seen and are mild when present.
West Nile meningoencephalitis is inflammation of both the brain (encephalitis) and meninges (meningitis).
West Nile poliomyelitis (WNP), an acute flaccid paralysis syndrome associated with WNV infection, is less common than WNM or WNE. This syndrome is generally characterized by the acute onset of asymmetric limb weakness or paralysis in the absence of sensory loss. Pain sometimes precedes the paralysis. The paralysis can occur in the absence of fever, headache, or other common symptoms associated with WNV infection. Involvement of respiratory muscles, leading to acute respiratory failure, can sometimes occur.
West-Nile reversible paralysis, Like WNP, the weakness or paralysis is asymmetric. Reported cases have been noted to have an initial preservation of deep tendon reflexes, which is not expected for a pure anterior horn involvement. Disconnect of upper motor neuron influences on the anterior horn cells possibly by myelitis or glutamate excitotoxicity have been suggested as mechanisms. The prognosis for recovery is excellent.
Cutaneous manifestations specifically rashes, are not uncommon in WNV-infected patients; however, there is a paucity of detailed descriptions in case reports and there are few clinical images widely available. Punctate erythematous, macular, and papular eruptions, most pronounced on the extremities have been observed in WNV cases and in some cases histopathologic findings have shown a sparse superficial perivascular lymphocytic infiltrate, a manifestation commonly seen in viral exanthems. A literature review provides support that this punctate rash is a common cutaneous presentation of WNV infection.