New Test for West Nile Virus Creates a Buzz

July 13, 2003

On July 9, 2003, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first diagnostic test for West Nile Virus (WNV). WNV is spread by mosquitoes that feed on birds infected by the virus. The risk of catching WNV is low: only about 1% of mosquitoes carry the virus and only 1% of humans who are bitten will go on to develop severe symptoms (brain swelling or infection of the meninges). Most people who do get sick experience only mild symptoms, such as fever, chills, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, headache, rashes, or muscle aches.

The new test is called the West Nile Virus IgM Capture ELISA. The test works by detecting levels of a special antibody (IgM) in the blood. Antibodies are made by the immune system in response to germs such as bacteria and viruses. The FDA reported that the test correctly identified the IgM antibody in 90 to 99% of the WNV test cases.

Because WVN is similar to other viruses, the new test is not specific for WVN. Therefore, other tests or a clinical examination of a patient is needed for a definite diagnosis. Nevertheless, this new test can be used to screen blood supplies before the blood is given to patients who need it.

Reference and further information:

  1. FDA Press Release - FDA Clears First Test for West Nile Virus
  2. West Nile Virus - from Neuroscience for Kids
  3. New Facts on West Nile Virus - from Neuroscience for Kids

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