What Is West Nile Virus? Symptoms, Treatment And What You Need To Know

In 2018, the virus infected 316 people in Greece and killed 50 locals.
frank600 via Getty Images

If you’re planning a holiday to Greece this summer, you might have heard about the upswing in cases of West Nile virus – a mosquito-borne disease.

In 2018, the virus infected 316 people in Greece and killed 50 locals. Because these were the highest numbers on record, the virus is now considered “a public health issue”, Greek health official Danai Pervanidou told The Guardian.

“Very few people coming back to the UK have the virus,” according to the NHS – despite more than 2 million Brits visiting Greece every year – and “no one has got the virus while in the UK”, it confirmed.

The Greek government is now focused on stopping West Nile virus spreading to tourism hotspots. Here’s what you need to know before you go.

What Is West Nile Virus?

West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne infection – meaning it is not contagious.

You get it from being bitten by infected mossies, which transmit the virus after feeding on the blood of an infected wild or migratory bird. Horses, as well as humans, are susceptible.

Recent cases have migrated from Greek villages and rural wetlands to more populated areas including Thessaloniki and the Attica region around Athens.

There have also been a few reported cases in other Mediterranean countries, including Italy, Cyprus, Romania and Serbia.

Precautions To Take

The West Nile virus is transmitted through mosquito bites, so you should take all the precautions you usually would on holiday, like using mossie spray.

The UK Foreign Office has added information on West Nile virus to its advice for tourists visiting Greece. “You should consider preventative measures to minimise exposure to mosquitoes, for example using mosquito repellent when outdoors and closing doors or windows or using screens,” it recommends.

And Pervanidou told The Guardian: “We are recommending that everyone takes personal protective measures such as wearing long sleeves, avoiding places with stagnant water and using mosquito nets and repellent.”

Symptoms And Treatment

Most people with West Nile virus have no symptoms, the NHS website states, and the infection usually goes away without treatment. Some people may develop “mild flu-like symptoms, nausea and a skin rash” that can last a few days.

An estimated one in 150 people infected with the West Nile virus will develop more severe symptoms, which can include muscle weakness, confusion and fits.

There is an increased risk of severe infection in the very young, the elderly, and those with diabetes. Serious infection will need to be treated in hospital, so if you are worried about any symptoms, contact your hotel, holiday operator or travel insurer who can recommend the nearest medical service.

If you develop any symptoms when you get home, see a GP and “make sure you say where you’ve been travelling”, the NHS says.

There is currently no vaccine for West Nile virus.