Recommendations for protecting laboratory, field, and clinical workers from West Nile Virus exposure.
The West Nile virus (WNV) is most often spread to humans from the bite of an infected mosquito. The virus may also be transmitted in other ways--through organ transplants, blood transfusions, and breast milk, and from mother to fetus. But the risk of such transmission is very low. WNV was first reported in the United States in 1999, and occupational exposures have been documented. By 2004, the virus was reported throughout the continental United States. Most human infections with WNV (about 80%) cause no symptoms, and about 20% cause flu-like symptoms--including fever, fatigue, headache, and muscle or joint pain. Fewer than 1% of humans infected with WNV become severely ill. Severe symptoms include high fever, stiff neck, disorientation, tremors, muscle weakness, and paralysis. Severely affected persons may develop encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the membranes of the brain or spinal cord). Severe cases may be fatal. People of all ages and conditions may be affected. However, those who are above age 50 or who have had an organ transplant are at increased risk of severe illness.