West Nile virus also spreads in Germany - what danger is there?

Further spread of the West Nile virus in Germany

The West Nile Virus (WNV) continues to spread in some regions of Germany. Experts have identified several infections with the pathogen in horses and birds in recent months. Humans can also become infected. Numerous deaths from the virus have been reported in Europe in the past year.

According to a communication from the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (FLI), the mosquito-borne virus infection was diagnosed in five cases in horses from Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt and in 37 cases in birds from the federal states of Berlin, Brandenburg and Saxony from the beginning of July to mid-September 2019 -Anhalt and Saxony found. People can also get infected. The first West Nile virus infection in Germany was reported last year.

Numerous deaths

"The WNV originally comes from Africa, but is now widespread in most continents (Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, North, Central and South America), often in tropical regions," explains the State Office for Consumer Protection Saxony-Anhalt his website. A WNV infection can also seriously affect people. In the past year, more than 70 deaths from the pathogen had been reported across Europe. The virus is transmitted by blood-sucking mosquitoes. The main hosts are birds, explains the FLI.

Further cases of illness can be expected

According to the institute, only some of the infected horses generally show symptoms of the disease, but due to the possible severe course, vaccination of the horses in the regions now affected is recommended. According to the Saxony-Anhalt State Office, WNV vaccines from three manufacturers are available for horses and can be used prophylactically.

Most of the horses infected with WNV, like humans, do not develop any symptoms of illness. However, some animals react with significant central nervous deficiency symptoms due to inflammation of the brain or meninges. These include stumbling, paralysis, ataxia, general weakness, muscle tremors (tremors) and paralysis until the animals are stuck.

Diseased horses are less likely to have febrile general illnesses that outweigh neurological symptoms. Horses with clinical signs can survive the infection, but retain neurological damage for up to 20 percent of the time. There is no specific treatment option yet, only symptomatic therapy is possible. The disease can be fatal in 22-44 percent of infected animals.

In addition, 37 cases were found in birds in the above-mentioned federal states during the same period. Species affected in wild birds are blue and great tit, hawk, sparrow and eagle owl and various zoo birds (e.g. Andean flamingo, great gray owl, mountain lory, Inca tern, Japanese gull, canary, pelican, great egret, snowy owl, swallow parakeet, scaly-sawn). According to the information, significantly more bird species are affected compared to the previous year. Further cases of disease can be expected in both birds and horses.

Virus has probably overwintered a local mosquito

As the WNV cases have so far been found in regions that were affected last year - with the exception of Brandenburg - it is highly likely that WNV has successfully wintered in native mosquitoes.

There is no vaccination for humans

As the State Office for Consumer Protection Saxony-Anhalt explains, the majority of infections in humans are inconspicuous or mild. "In less than one percent of infections, however, there is a severe, highly febrile course of the disease with meningitis or encephalitis, which can lead to permanent neurological damage and in rare cases ends fatally," wrote the FLI in an older message.

About 20 percent of those infected develop a febrile illness that lasts three to six days. The prevalence is a sudden onset of fever and symptoms of a flu infection. Only around every 150th infected person becomes seriously ill. A key risk factor is the age of the sick. People over 50 and immunosuppressed people are at the highest risk.

So far there is no vaccination for humans. As with other mosquito-borne infections, protective measures include avoiding mosquito bites through appropriate clothing and repellents (insect repellents) and reducing the number of possible breeding grounds. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (FLI): Further spread of the West Nile Virus: Five infections in horses and increased number of cases in birds found, (accessed: 09/21/2019), Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (FLI)
  • State Office for Consumer Protection Saxony-Anhalt: Further West Nile virus infections in 2019 - case numbers increasing compared to 2018, (accessed: 09/21/2019), State Office for Consumer Protection Saxony-Anhalt
  • Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (FLI): FLI detects West Nile virus infection in a bird for the first time in Germany, (accessed: September 21, 2019), Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (FLI)

Video: Mosquito season: How to identify symptoms of West Nile virus. Just The FAQs (January 2022).