West Nile Virus

West Nile virus (WNV) is a viral disease that primarily affects birds but can also infect humans, horses, and other animals. It is transmitted through the bite of infected mosquitoes, primarily species of the Culex genus. When a mosquito bites a bird that has the virus, it can become infected too. Then, if that mosquito bites a person, it can pass on the virus and make them sick.

Most people who get infected with West Nile virus don't feel sick or have only mild symptoms like fever and headache. But in rare cases, it can cause more severe illness, especially affecting the brain. It's important to avoid mosquito bites by using bug repellents and wearing protective clothing, especially in areas where West Nile virus is found.

Each year, Georgia has cases of West Nile virus. Read the frequently asked questions (FAQs) below for more information.


  • How is West Nile virus spread?

    West Nile virus is a sickness caused by a tiny organism called a virus. It mainly spreads through the bite of certain mosquitoes. When a mosquito carrying the virus bites a bird that is infected, the mosquito can become infected too. Then, if that mosquito bites a person, it can pass on the virus and make them sick.

  • What are the symptoms of West Nile virus?

    The symptoms of West Nile virus (WNV) can vary from mild to severe, and some people may not experience any symptoms at all. The following are the typical signs and symptoms associated with WNV infection:

    1. Mild Symptoms:

      • Fever: Most people with WNV infection develop a fever, often accompanied by chills.
      • Headache: Headaches are a common symptom, which can range from mild to severe.
      • Body Aches: Muscle aches (myalgia) and joint pain (arthralgia) can occur, affecting multiple areas of the body.
      • Fatigue: Feeling tired or exhausted (fatigue) is frequently reported.
    2. Moderate to Severe Symptoms:

      • High Fever: Some individuals may experience a high fever (over 38°C or 100.4°F).
      • Neck Stiffness: Stiffness in the neck or back may be present, which can make it difficult to bend the neck forward.
      • Headache and Body Aches: Severe headaches and muscle or joint pain can occur.
      • Nausea and Vomiting: Some people may experience nausea and vomiting.
      • Swollen Lymph Nodes: The lymph nodes in the neck or other areas of the body may become enlarged.
      • Rash: A rash may develop on the trunk of the body or other parts, although it is less common.
      • Neurological Symptoms: In rare cases, WNV can cause severe neurological complications, such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord). Neurological symptoms can include high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, disorientation, tremors, seizures, muscle weakness, and even paralysis.

    It's important to note that the majority of people infected with West Nile virus (about 80%) do not develop any symptoms. Those who do experience symptoms typically have mild to moderate illness that develops within 14 days after their mosquito bite and recover fully. However, individuals with severe symptoms or neurological involvement require immediate medical attention.

    If you suspect you have been infected with West Nile virus and experience symptoms, it is recommended to seek medical advice from a healthcare professional for proper evaluation, diagnosis, and management.

  • What is the treatment for West Nile virus?

    Currently, there is no specific antiviral treatment for West Nile virus (WNV) infections. Most people with mild symptoms recover on their own with supportive care, which focuses on relieving symptoms and managing complications. The treatment for West Nile virus primarily involves:

    1. Symptom Relief: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help alleviate fever, headache, and body aches. It's important to follow the recommended dosage and consult a healthcare professional if needed, especially for children or individuals with underlying medical conditions.

    2. Rest and Fluids: Getting plenty of rest and staying hydrated is essential for the body to recover from the infection. Drinking water and fluids can help prevent dehydration.

    3. Medical Monitoring: Individuals with severe or neuroinvasive forms of West Nile virus, such as encephalitis or meningitis, may require hospitalization for close monitoring, supportive care, and symptom management. This may include intravenous fluids, pain control, and treatments to reduce brain swelling or seizures.

    4. Complication Management: Some individuals may experience complications due to West Nile virus infection, such as respiratory or neurological problems. These complications will be addressed and treated accordingly by healthcare professionals.

    It's important to note that prevention is key in reducing the risk of West Nile virus infection. Avoiding mosquito bites, using mosquito repellents, wearing protective clothing, and eliminating stagnant water sources where mosquitoes breed are crucial preventive measures.

    If you suspect you have West Nile virus or have been diagnosed with the infection, it's important to seek medical advice from a healthcare professional. They can provide appropriate guidance based on your specific condition and ensure proper monitoring and care throughout the illness.

  • How can I prevent getting West Nile virus?

    To prevent West Nile virus, it's important to take precautions against mosquito bites. This includes:

    1. Avoid Mosquito Bites: Use insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus on exposed skin. Wear long sleeves, pants, and socks when outdoors, especially during dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.

    2. Eliminate Mosquito Breeding Sites: Remove standing water around your home, such as in flower pots, buckets, or birdbaths, as these are breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Keep gutters clean and properly draining.

    3. Install or Repair Screens: Make sure windows and doors have intact screens without holes or gaps to keep mosquitoes out of your living areas.

    4. Be cautious during peak mosquito season: Mosquitoes are more prevalent during warmer months, so take extra precautions to avoid bites. Stay informed about West Nile virus activity in your area and follow any local health guidelines or advisories.

    Remember, these preventive measures not only reduce the risk of West Nile virus but also help protect against other mosquito-borne diseases.

  • How is West Nile virus diagnosed?

    The diagnosis of West Nile virus (WNV) infection is typically made through a combination of clinical evaluation, laboratory tests, and consideration of the patient's symptoms, medical history, and potential exposure to mosquitoes.

    It's important to note that the timing of laboratory testing is crucial. Some tests for WNV antibodies are typically performed on blood samples collected during the acute phase of the illness and again during the convalescent phase (2-3 weeks later) to detect changes in antibody levels. And some tests require blood samples to be collected early during the clinical course.

    If you suspect you have WNV or have symptoms consistent with the infection, it's important to consult a healthcare professional. They can determine the need for diagnostic testing and guide you through the appropriate evaluation and management process.

  • How many cases of West Nile virus are reported in Georgia and the US each year?

    The Georgia Department of Public Health tracks and monitors cases of mosquito diseases, including West Nile virus, through passive surveillance systems which relies on healthcare providers to submit laboratory results and medical records for review. 

    Georgia Data

    From the years 2018 to 2022, a total of 81 cases of West Nile virus were reported in Georgia residents. 

    National Data

    West Nile Virus - Data & Maps (CDC) [external link]

    Case Surveillance

    What is Case Surveillance? (CSTE) [external link]

    NOTE: Disease surveillance systems primarily count cases based on the patient's residential location rather than the specific location of exposure.

  • Where can I get more information on West Nile virus?

    If you believe you have West Nile virus, please consult your health care provider. Additionally, you can use the following links to learn more.

    CDC - West Nile virus [external link]

    CDC - Mother to Baby during Pregnancy, Delivery, or Breastfeeding [external link]

    For information on local surveillance, contact your local health district or the Georgia Department of Public Health, Epidemiology Section at 404-657-2588 and ask to speak to the Vectorborne Disease Team.



Page last updated 07/05/2023