The epidemic of West Nile virus (WNV) in the USA in 2002 represents the largest outbreak of meningoencephalitis in the Western Hemisphere ever reported. Besides natural transmission by mosquitoes, five new modes of WNV transmission to humans have been reported: blood transfusion, organ transplantation, transplacental transmission, breastfeeding and laboratory-acquired infection. The recognition of these new transmission routes has made the development of rapid and accurate serological diagnosis of WNV infection a public health priority. In this article, the current serologic assays for WNV diagnosis are reviewed, including immunoglobulin M antibody-capture ELISA, immunoglobulin G ELISA, indirect fluorescent antibody tests, hemagglutination inhibition tests and plaque reduction neutralization tests. The recently developed immunoassays that use purified recombinant envelope and nonstructural protein 5 of WNV as antigens are also reviewed. The nonstructural protein 5 protein-based assay can reliably discriminate between WNV and dengue or St. Louis encephalitis virus, as well as between natural WNV infection and flavivirus vaccination.
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