Monitoring West Nile Virus in the United States

Posted: 23rd October 2012
 Monitoring West Nile Virus in the United States

Guest author: Aaron Anderson is a recent graduate from King’s College London with a Master’s degree in Intelligence and International Security. Prior to graduate school he worked in government for both the UK and US Department of State, and served five years in the US armed services with tours overseas. Find more from Aaron here.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in September that the West Nile Virus (WNV) is “disturbingly unpredictable, disagreeable, and difficult to control.” When the report was published ~3,545 confirmed cases of infection had been confirmed in the United States this year, a number that has since risen to 4,531 cases and 183 deaths.

In this post, we’ll examine media reports to identify what locations are being hit hardest, what viruses and symptoms are linked with the West Nile virus, and who is discussing the spread of the virus? The post will conclude with a summary of forecast events found in Recorded Future, and links to monitor additional virus outbreaks around the world.

Associations with West Nile virus in the United States during 2012


The heaviest hit location in the United States according to media reports is Texas, and within that state the top cited cities include:

  • Dallas and surrounding areas with over 750 cited incidents
  • Fort Hood Army post located between Dallas and Austin
  • Austin (52)
  • Houston (26)
  • El Paso (16) location of Fort Bliss Army post
  • San Antonio (14) location of Fort Sam Houston, Army Medical Center

Authors and Commentators

Top cited authors talking about WNV include

  • Karen Herzog – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter dealing with public health.
  • Ethan A. Huff – Staff writer with
  • Jason Raiche – Staff writer with the located in Michigan
  • Maggie Fox – Journalist for NBC news.

Top cited individuals discussing future events linked to WNV:

  • Lyle Peterson (14 events) – director of the division of vector-borne infectious diseases at the CDC.
  • Cynthia Morrow (4) – The Onondaga County (New York) Health Commissioner.
  • Kim McNamara (3) – Portsmouth, New Hampshire city Health Official.

Top neurological illnesses and symptoms linked to WNV by the media:

  • meningitis
  • encephalitis
  • linked to lethargy, fever, wobbles, seizures, mood changes, and stumbling in horses

Top viruses associated with WNV in the media:

  • Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE)
  • St. Louis Encephalitis (SLE) – reports by medical blogs suggest that the 80 year experience of SLE in the Unites States shows future cases of infection may be sporadic and unpredictable for decades to come.
  • Japanese B Encephalitis (JE)

[Note: EEE, SLE and JE are acute neurological illnesses with up to 30% mortality and permanent neurological disabilities in the survivors.]

Annual Transmission Cycle (2011-2012)

The years 2011 and 2012 are able to show a correlation between suspected times of infections and momentum of discussion in the media. The months of May to October mark significant levels in momentum with August to October marking the highest levels. The negative sentiment during August and September also reflect the highest levels of infection. Future transmission of the virus will likely occur during this window.

Recorded Future Events (2013)

Predicted events identified in Recorded Future can be outlined with three key points. First, 2013 is expected to be a year of uncertainty as it relates to the spread of the West Nile Virus. Several sources cite CDC experts stating that uncertainty about the distribution of WNV in 2013. Second, large emphasis has been placed on the St. Louis Encephalitis (SLE) virus’ behavior and what could be expected from WNV. In short, patterns of behavior have direct links with other known virus trends.

Lastly, many sources stated that peak time for the spread of the virus will be from July through October, while noting that the prevention will be conducted at a community level. This bottom-up approach to prevention is further supported by looking at the types of media reporting on WNV. In 2012, 209 out of 355 events were from local news blogs as opposed to mainstream media which came second with 70 events. This trend tracks to those forecasting events in 2013 with over 50 percent of reported future events coming from local news blogs.

Additional Outbreaks to Monitor Around the World

  • Ebola – The recent outbreak of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has infected many. The World Health Organization (WHO) stated the virus has almost a 42% fatality rate with no treatment or vaccine available. Follow the latest updates.
  • Crimean-Congo Fever – In the United Kingdom (UK) a 38 year old man traveling from Kabul, Afghanistan carrying the Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever was admitted to a Glasgow hospital. UK officials were quick to calm anxiety stating that the spread of the virus was unlikely. Follow the latest updates.
  • African Swine Fever – The African Swine fever virus, as its name suggests, infects domestic pigs. The virus is endemic to Sub-Saharan Africa with the spread attributed by ticks (vectors) to wild pigs in the region. The virus has been notable recently in Russia and parts of Europe. Follow the latest updates.