Definition

Western equine encephalitis (WEE) is a virus spread by a bite from an infected mosquito. While WEE is rare, an infected person can become seriously ill and even die from the virus.

Causes

WEE is caused by being bitten by a mosquito that is infected with the virus.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of WEE include:

  • Living in or visiting the plains regions of western and central United States
  • Doing activities outdoors and not using insect repellent

Symptoms

Most people with WEE do not have any symptoms.

If symptoms do occur, they appear within 5-10 days after infection and include:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Neck stiffness
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Vomiting

WEE can lead to more serious, life-threatening symptoms like inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), seizures, and coma. These serious symptoms are more common in infants and older adults.

Encephalitis

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Diagnosis

In addition to taking your medical history and doing a physical exam, your doctor will ask you:

  • What kind of symptoms you are experiencing
  • Where you have been living or traveling
  • Whether you have been exposed to mosquitoes

Your doctor may need to test your bodily fluids. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Cerebrospinal fluid tests to evaluate the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord

Imaging tests to evaluate the brain can be done with:

Treatment

Because the infection is viral, there is no specific treatment for WEE. Treatment will focus on managing your symptoms and related complications through:

  • IV fluids
  • Antiseizure medications
  • Medications to decrease brain swelling
  • Breathing support—mechanical ventilation

Prevention

There is no vaccine for humans. There is a vaccine for horses. Prevention of WEE focuses on controlling mosquitoes and avoiding mosquito bites. Steps you can take to avoid mosquito bites include:

  • Stay inside between dusk and dark, when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outside.
  • Use an insect repellent with DEET.
  • Repair screens to prevent mosquitoes from entering the house.
  • Use proper mosquito netting at night. Look for netting treated with insecticide.
  • Remove standing water (such as birdbaths, clogged gutters) to prevent mosquito breeding.