State Epidemiologist Discusses West Nile Virus Risk

August 1, 2012 | Health Care
New Jersey State Epidemiologist Dr. Christina Tan says most people don't experience severe symptoms from West Nile virus, but there is a possibility for complications.

One case of West Nile virus has been confirmed in New Jersey this season, which has many residents worried about infection. New Jersey State Epidemiologist Dr. Christina Tan told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that West Nile virus is prevalent throughout the United States and has been for more than a decade. She said most people recover from an infection.

“West Nile virus infection in general usually doesn’t cause severe illness. Most people who are infected with West Nile virus don’t have any symptoms at all or otherwise might just have some mild illness,” Tan said. “Typically speaking if people do have symptoms they tend to be mild like fever or headache, body aches but sometimes there may be some instances where people develop severe illnesses that can lead to confusion, paralysis and possibly result in hospitalizations.”

West Nile virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. “This is the time of the year that we do see mosquito activity right now so this is the time of the year that people should take extra precautions to protect themselves against West Nile virus,” Tan said.

According to Tan, West Nile virus has been in North America for a little more than 10 years and the virus has established itself from coast to coast.


While infection doesn’t normally cause severe problems, Tan said a small portion of the population might develop severe complications like encephalitis, meningitis or even more severe neurological problems. “These tend to be people who are over the age of 50 who are people with weakened immune systems,” she said, adding that children are also potentially at risk.

Tan said there is currently West Nile virus activity in mosquito pools throughout the state with the exception of Cumberland and Salem counties.

She explained that mosquitoes contract the virus by feeding on infected birds. “We typically have seen West Nile virus emerge or be a problem among various crow populations but we do follow it in conjunction with our various partners and environmental protection agencies to determine where the bird populations may be affected,” Tan said. “We work closely with the local health departments to monitor that activity.”

Tan suggested that people take precautions to prevent mosquito bites whenever they are in an area with mosquito activity to prevent West Nile virus and other mosquito borne illnesses.

Related: West Nile Virus Case Confirmed in New Jersey