ATLANTA (Reuters) – The United States is expected to report a record number of West Nile infections this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has tracked the mosquito-borne virus since it first surfaced in the Americas in 1999.
ATLANTA (Reuters) – The United States is expected to report a record number of West Nile infections this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has tracked the mosquito-borne virus since it first surfaced in the Americas in 1999.Eighty people have died and more than 4,000 others in 39 states and the District of Columbia have contracted the virus this summer. The 2002 outbreak infected 4,156 people, including 284 who subsequently died.”The indications are that this was also a very difficult year for West Nile, particularly for people in jurisdictions that are being hit by this for the first time,” CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said in a press conference in Atlanta.Gerberding, who had spoken earlier this year of the potential for a record epidemic, noted that the federal agency was seeing more cases of West Nile-related encephalitis, one of the most severe symptoms of the disease.Although the peak transmission period of West Nile has passed in most parts of the nation, the CDC said Americans should continue to use insect repellent and wear protective clothing when outside to reduce the chances of infection.Most people who are bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus suffer nothing more than headaches and flu-like symptoms, but the elderly, chronically ill and those with weak immune systems can develop fatal encephalitis and meningitis when infected.U.S. health officials, however, concede that identifying West Nile infections was easier this year because of a new blood test that picks up antibodies to the virus.Use of a new but different test that identifies nucleic acids from the virus also has helped to protect the U.S. blood supply from contamination, health officials said. A small number of Americans contracted West Nile from blood transfusions last year.Gerberding said that the nucleic acid test had detected the virus in about 600 units of infected blood, which were then pulled from blood banks. She did, however, note that two people apparently became infected after receiving contaminated blood that slipped through the screening system.”This (test) is a major step forward in protecting the blood supply, but it’s not perfect,” Gerberding said. About 4.5 million Americans receive blood or blood products annually.(Source: Reuters, Thu September 18, 2003 04:27 PM ET, By Paul Simao)