The West Nile Virus is Back - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

5/20/03

The West Nile Virus is Back

Just as public health officials begin to get a handle on SARS, mosquitoes are back, and so is the threat of West Nile Virus.

In fact, health officials in Louisiana are investigating what may be the first two human cases this year. West Nile Virus made it's first U.S. appearance in New York City in 1999.

Carried by infected birds and spread to humans through mosquito bites, it traveled south and west across the U.S., blowing up into a major epidemic last year. More than 4,000 people got sick, more than 280 died.

"It's likely that West Nile will be with us. I don't think we're going to eradicate it, but hopefully, as with other mosquito borne disease we have in the United States, such as Eastern Equine Encephalitis, we can control it, so that there are very few human cases," says David Weber, infectious disease epidemiologist.

Dr. Weber says there are now vaccines for animals, and clinical trials for a human vaccine could begin this summer. And remember, most people who are infected with West Nile never get sick. Only a small number will get flu-like symptoms and fewer than 1% develop a severe and potentially deadly illness.

Still, health officials stress that prevention is the best strategy. So, when you and your kids go outside, be sure to use insect repellant, particularly one that includes Deet, which has proven to be the best mosquito fighter.

This summer, blood banks will begin using two experimental tests to screen blood donations for West Nile. Last summer, it was discovered that the virus can be transmitted through blood after patients who underwent organ transplants and blood transfusions became sick.

The virus was also detected in breast milk, and health officials say they are now looking to see what if any effect the virus may have on a developing fetus.

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