Prior to 1999, West Nile virus (WNV) was a bit player in the screenplay of global vector-borne viral diseases. First discovered in the West Nile District of Uganda in 1937, this Culex
sp.-transmitted virus was known for causing small human febrile outbreaks in Africa and the Middle East. Prior to 1995, the last major human WNV outbreak was in the 1950s in Israel. The epidemiology and ecology of WNV began to change in the mid-1990s when an epidemic of human encephalitis occurred in Romania. The introduction of WNV into Eastern Europe was readily explained by bird migration between Africa and Europe. The movement of WNV from Africa to Europe could not, however, predict its surprising jump across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City and the surrounding areas of the United States (U.S.). This movement of WNV from the Eastern to Western Hemisphere in 1999, and its subsequent dissemination throughout two continents in less than ten years is widely recognized as one of the most significant events in arbovirology during the last two centuries. This paper documents the early events of the introduction into and the spread of WNV in the Western Hemisphere.