West Nile virus (WNV) is a zoonotic virus that circulates in birds and is transmitted by mosquitoes. Incidentally, humans, horses and other mammals can also be infected. Disease symptoms caused by WNV range from fever to neurological complications, such as encephalitis or meningitis. Mortality is observed mostly in older and immunocompromised individuals. In recent years, epidemics caused by WNV in humans and horses have become more frequent in several Southern European countries, such as Italy and Greece. In 1999, WNV was introduced into the USA and spread over North America within a couple of years. The increasing number of WNV outbreaks is associated with the emergence of novel viral strains, which display higher virulence and greater epidemic potential for humans. Upon infection with WNV, the mammalian immune system counteracts the virus at several different levels. On the other side, WNV has developed elaborated escape mechanisms to avoid its elimination. This review summarizes recent findings in WNV research that help to understand the complex biology associated with this emerging pathogen.

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