West Nile virus, which has so far claimed 15 lives, is spreading in Israel
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West Nile virus, which has so far claimed 15 lives, is spreading in Israel

A total of 299 Israelis have been diagnosed with West Nile fever so far, resulting in 15 deaths, according to the Health Ministry. Among those hospitalized are a man in his 50s and a woman in her 40s, both being cared for in the Neurology Department at the Rambam Health Care Campus. They are experiencing various neurological complications related to the virus. So far, most severe cases in Israel have been among the elderly or those with underlying health conditions.

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West Nile virus, which has so far claimed 15 lives, is spreading in IsraelWest Nile virus, which has so far claimed 15 lives, is spreading in Israel

The Culex Pipiens mosquito transmits the disease

(Photo: Shutterstock)

The younger patients hospitalized in Rambam did not have any comorbidities. According to the medical team, it is likely that both patients were bitten by mosquitoes in the central region in recent days.

“Despite the significant increase in cases in Israel to date, their hospitalization in Rambam does not indicate the presence of infected mosquitoes in the northern region at this point,” noted Dr. Michal Paul, head of the Rambam Institute for Infectious Diseases.

“Both patients are receiving supportive care and are under close medical supervision. Unfortunately, when someone gets sick, there is not much we can do, but we hope his condition will improve soon,” Dr. Shahar Sheli, head of the Neurology Department at Rambam, told Ynet.

West Nile fever (WNF) is a zoonosis that can also affect humans. It is caused by a virus that is found primarily in birds and is transmitted to humans and other animals through the bites of Culex pipiens mosquitoes that feed on infected birds. The incubation period, from the time of bite to the onset of symptoms, is 5 to 21 days, and the illness usually lasts 3 to 6 days. In most cases, WNF presents as a mild, flu-like illness that resolves on its own. Symptoms often include fever, headaches, weakness, joint and muscle pain, conjunctivitis, rash, and sometimes nausea and diarrhea. Rare complications can include acute encephalitis or meningitis, and in rare cases, mainly in people whose immune systems are weakened for any reason, the disease can be fatal.

About 80% of people infected with West Nile fever do not show symptoms. About 20% will have symptoms of varying severity, including fever, malaise, headaches, or widespread body pain, and neurological complications occur in less than 1% of infected people. The virus does not spread from person to person, nor does it spread back from people to mosquitoes. The risk of serious illness is primarily among older people and those with weakened immune systems.

West Nile fever has been known in Israel for many years and usually occurs between June and November. This year, the disease has started earlier than usual, probably due to climate changes in Israel and the world, and the humid weather in central Israel probably led to mosquito breeding and development in the area.