Skip to Main Content

The University of Tennessee

The College of Veterinary Medicine

Frequently Used Tools:

News Archive

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the West Nile Virus?

West Nile Virus (WNV) is one of the several mosquito-borne viruses in the United States that can affect people. The virus exists in nature primarily through a transmission cycle involving mosquitoes and birds. Mosquitoes become infected with WNV when they feed on infected birds.

If I live in an area where birds or mosquitoes with West Nile Virus have been reported and a mosquito bites me, am I likely to get sick?

No. Even in areas where mosquitoes do carry the virus less than 1% are infected. Also, less than 1% of people who are bitten by an infected mosquito become infected and severely ill. Does West Nile Virus affect all birds? No. Most birds do not become ill when infected with WNV. The virus is mostly fatal in crows, blue jays, and sometimes hawks.

Can I get West Nile Virus directly from birds?

No. There is not any evidence that a person can get WNV from handling live or dead infected birds. Still, dead birds should not be handled with bare hands. Always use gloves and double plastic bags to dispose of dead birds.

Can my pets get West Nile Virus from an infected bird?

There is not any documented evidence of this occurring, but it is possible if dogs or cats eat a dead infected bird that they may become infected as well.

Can my pets get West Nile Virus from a mosquito?

Yes. Dogs and cats can contract WNV from mosquito bites, just as humans. However, WNV does not appear to cause extensive illness in dogs or cats. Horses also become infected by the bite of an infectious mosquito and can become extremely ill and even die. You can contact your veterinarian about a newly licensed equine vaccine for areas where WNV is prevalent.

Can I get West Nile Virus from my pets?

West Nile Virus is transmitted from infected mosquitoes. There is not any documented evidence of animal-to-person, or even person-to-person, transmission. However, for infected horses normal veterinary infection control precautions should be followed. More information regarding West Nile Virus can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention West Nile Virus Homepage.

Sandra Harbison
Media Relations
UT College of Veterinary Medicine

Dog Bite Prevention Knox Cattlemen UT Veterinary MRI