The West Nile virus, also known as Flavivirus Japanese Encephalitis Antigenic Complex, is a virus that is transmitted by mosquitoes. It is carried by the mosquito in its salivary glands, then transmitted when it feeds. It has been found in birds, horses, cats, bats, chipmunks, skunks, squirrels, rabbits, and humans. The virus was first found in a woman from the West Nile district of Uganda in 1937. In the decades to follow, several outbreaks occurred throughout Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The first reported case in North America occurred in 1999. As of August 2002, the virus has been found in the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

In humans, symptoms occur 3 to 5 days after the bite. It is usually not fatal, and often you just wait for it to run its course. However, if you suspect you may have it, see a medical professional immediately. Flu-like symptoms are often reported, as well as stiffness, disorientation, and rashes. The risks are more serious for people over 50 years old. The most severe symptom is encephalitis.

You should consider taking a few simple steps to protect yourself from this virus, especially if you live in an area experiencing an outbreak. Try to avoid being outside at dawn and dusk if it’s not necessary. Try to wear long sleeved shirts and pants so you’re not as exposed, wear insect repellant, and ensure window and door screens properly prevent mosquitoes from entering your house.