west nile fever

The Night of the Buzzing Bandits: Unveiling the Threat of West Nile Fever

After a long, tiring day, you hit the sack early with the contentment of a full belly, and a warm blanket against the cool night air. But a familiar, high-pitched whine pierces your slumber. Mosquitoes. You yawn, too tired to shoo them away, too confident you remembered the repellent (you didn't). A few days later, a dull ache settles in your bones, a fever paints your skin, and a nagging headache makes even the simplest task feel like a marathon. Could it be just the monsoon flu? Maybe. Or, it could be something alarming – a buzzing wake-up call from a little-known, mosquito-borne villain: West Nile Fever.

According to health authorities, there were five reported cases of vector-borne diseases in three districts in Kerala, the northern districts of Kozhikode, Malappuram, and Thrissur districts. Kozhikode district collector Snehil Kumar Singh stated that out of the five cases reported in the district, four individuals have already recovered, while one is presently receiving treatment at the government medical college hospital.

West Nile fever, a mosquito-borne illness caused by the West Nile virus (WNV), has become a public health concern in many parts of the world. While most infected individuals experience mild or no symptoms, a small percentage can develop severe neurological complications. Understanding the history, transmission, and impact of West Nile fever is crucial for effective prevention and management.

A Look Back: History of West Nile Fever

According to the National Library of Medicine, the first documented case of West Nile fever dates back to 1937, identified in the West Nile district of Uganda. The virus remained relatively obscure until the mid-20th century when outbreaks emerged in Europe and the Middle East.

In 1999, WNV gained notoriety after a large outbreak in New York City, marking its arrival in North America. Since then, the virus has become established across the continental United States and parts of Canada, with cases reported annually.

The emergence of West Nile fever in new regions highlights the virus's ability to spread and adapt. Factors like global travel and climate change are believed to contribute to its geographic expansion.

Transmission: How Mosquitoes Spread West Nile Virus

WNV is primarily transmitted through the bite of infected mosquitoes. Culex mosquitoes, common in temperate climates, are the main culprits. These mosquitoes become infected by feeding on infected birds, the natural reservoir of the virus. Once infected, a mosquito can transmit the virus to humans and other animals throughout its lifespan.

It's important to note that West Nile virus is not spread through casual contact between humans. You cannot contract the virus by touching someone who is infected or by sharing personal belongings.

Unveiling the Symptoms: A Spectrum of Illness

According to the World Health Organisation, approximately 80% of individuals infected with WNV show no symptoms, while the remaining 20% may experience West Nile fever, characterised by symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue, body aches, nausea, vomiting, occasional skin rash on the trunk, and swollen lymph glands.

The symptoms of severe WNV infection, also known as neuroinvasive disease, encompass headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, and paralysis. 

It's estimated that approximately 1 in 150 individuals infected with West Nile virus will develop this more severe form of the illness. While serious illness can affect individuals of any age, those over 50 and certain immunocompromised individuals, such as transplant patients, face the highest risk of severe illness following WNV infection. Typically, the incubation period ranges from 3 to 14 days. Recovery from severe West Nile disease can be lengthy and may leave individuals with lasting neurological impairments.

Latest Statistics on West Nile Virus

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2022, there were 574 cases of West Nile disease reported in the United States. Of those cases, 237 people were hospitalised, and 10 deaths were reported.

These statistics are a reminder that while the majority of WNV infections are mild, the potential for serious illness exists.

A map of West Nile virus distribution across the globe. This map shows reported epidemics of WNV in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas (North and South America). 

Risky Business: Who's Most Susceptible?

Certain individuals face an increased risk of developing severe West Nile disease. This includes those aged 60 and above, individuals with compromised immune systems due to chronic health conditions or medication use, and people who have undergone organ transplants.

Recognising these risk factors empowers individuals to adopt additional measures for preventing mosquito bites, especially during peak mosquito activity periods, typically observed in summer and fall.

Prevention is Key: Protecting Yourself from West Nile Virus

Currently, there exists no specific treatment for West Nile fever. Emphasis is placed on preventing mosquito bites and managing symptoms in affected individuals.

Effective strategies to minimise the risk of contracting the West Nile virus include applying insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535 as per label instructions, wearing protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, and socks, particularly during peak mosquito activity times like dusk and dawn, eliminating potential mosquito breeding sites around the home by regularly emptying containers like buckets, tyres, and birdbaths, and ensuring windows and doors are equipped with tightly fitted screens to prevent mosquito entry. By adhering to these preventive measures, individuals can significantly lower their likelihood of developing West Nile fever.

Individual and Community Action

In addition to the efforts of public health agencies, individual and community action is vital in combating West Nile fever. Here's how you can contribute:

  • Stay informed: Keep yourself updated on the latest information about West Nile fever in your area by following advisories from your local health department.
  • Practice personal protection measures: Implement the preventive measures discussed earlier, such as using insect repellent and eliminating mosquito breeding grounds around your home.
  • Advocate for community-wide mosquito control programs: Support efforts in your community to implement mosquito control initiatives that can significantly reduce mosquito populations.


While West Nile fever can cast a shadow over monsoon nights, it doesn't have to be a season-defining threat. By taking proactive steps like using insect repellent and eliminating mosquito breeding grounds around your home, you can turn the tide on these tiny terrors. Remember, a little prevention goes a long way. Don't let West Nile fever steal your summer sunshine – with some awareness and action, you can keep the good vibes buzzing!

Let us know what you think in the comment section below. If you have an opinion to share, send it over to larra@globalindiannetwork.com.

Komala Rudra

Komala Rudra is a devoted mother and author who explores children's behavior and nutrition, offering valuable insights and practical guidance for parents and caregivers. Her writings aim to nurture healthy habits and stronger connections between parents and their little ones.

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