West Nile virus can cause severe neurological symptoms and can even result in death. It’s common in horses and birds are natural hosts, but don’t become infected. For horses, there is a vaccine available, but no vaccine to prevent the disease in humans exists. People can get the disease from mosquitoes that carry the disease, and while many patients might not even realize they have it, in others, it causes weakness, flu-like symptoms, nausea and in more serious cases, West Nile fever and West Nile encephalitis. Recently in Greece, there was an outbreak of West Nile. 130 cases were reported from around the country, and 17 patients have died.
In 1996 there was a massive outbreak in Romania and every summer since there has been an increasing number of cases in central and southern Europe. The recent spate of cases in Greece came earlier than usual and has been especially virulent. Only about 1 in 150 patients will develop a more dangerous form of the disease, and these are usually medically vulnerable patients with other health issues or the elderly. In the outbreak in Greece, all of the patients who died from the disease were over 70 years of age. Public health officials in Greece are working to contain the spread of West Nile, but advise those who must spend time outdoors where there have been cases to wear protective clothing and insect repellant.