Epidemiologic and clinical parameters of West Nile virus infections in humans: a scoping review

BMC Infect Dis. 2017 Sep 6;17(1):609. doi: 10.1186/s12879-017-2637-9.


Background: Clinical syndromes associated with West Nile virus (WNV) infection range from fever to neuroinvasive disease. Understanding WNV epidemiology and disease history is important for guiding patient care and healthcare decision-making. The objective of this review was to characterize the existing body of peer-reviewed and surveillance literature on WNV syndromes and summarize epidemiologic and clinical parameters.

Methods: We followed scoping review methodology described by the Joanna Briggs Institute. Terms related to WNV epidemiology, hospitalization, and surveillance were searched in four bibliographic databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, Scopus, and CINAHL) for literature published from January 1999 to December 2015.

Results: In total, 2334 non-duplicated titles and abstracts were screened; 92 primary studies were included in the review. Publications included one randomized controlled trial and 91 observational studies. Sample sizes ranged from under 25 patients (n = 19) to over 400 patients (n = 28). Eight studies were from Canada, seven from Israel, and the remaining (n = 77) from the United States. N = 17 studies were classified as outbreak case investigations following epidemics; n = 37 with results of regional/national surveillance and monitoring programs. Mean patient ages were > 40 years old; three studies (3%) focused on the pediatric population. Patients with encephalitis fared worse than patients with meningitis and fever, considering hospitalization, length of stay, discharge, recovery, and case-fatality. Several studies examined risk factors; however, age was the only risk factor for neuroinvasive disease/death consistently identified. Overall, patients with acute flaccid paralysis or encephalitis fared worse than patients with meningitis and West Nile fever in terms of hospitalization and mortality. Among the included studies, proportion hospitalized, length of stay, proportion discharged home and case-fatality ranged considerably.

Conclusion: Our review highlights the heterogeneity among reporting clinical WNV syndromes and epidemiologic parameters of WNV-related illness. Presently, there is potential for further synthesis of the risk factors of WNV-illness and mortality; undertaking further analysis through a systematic review and meta-analysis may benefit our understanding of risk factors for emerging mosquito-borne diseases. Future research on the burden of WNV can build on existing evidence summarized in this review, not only to support our understanding of endemic WNV, but also to strengthen research on emerging arboviruses with similar clinical manifestations.

Keywords: Epidemiologic parameters; Neurologic syndromes; Scoping review; West Nile virus.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Culicidae / virology
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Israel / epidemiology
  • Patient Discharge / statistics & numerical data
  • Population Surveillance
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • West Nile Fever / epidemiology*
  • West Nile Fever / etiology*
  • West Nile Fever / mortality