West Nile virus strategy drawn up
The Department of Health has drawn up plans for dealing with an outbreak of the potentially deadly West Nile virus.
The Department of Health has drawn up plans for dealing with an outbreak of the potentially deadly West Nile virus. Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer for England, said the plans had been drawn up as a precaution. No cases of the disease have been reported in the UK. Sir Liam said the risk of it arriving is low. The virus normally only causes mild symptoms, such as fever or skin rashes. However, in some cases it can be fatal. It killed 264 in the US last year. The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, which suck the blood of infected birds and then feed on humans. Recent outbreaks It has been found in parts of Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and now North America. In Europe, recent outbreaks have occurred in Romania and Russia. The best way to protect against the virus is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes, wearing long sleeved shirts and long-trousers and using insect repellent. While there have been no reported cases of the virus in humans in the UK, signs of the disease have been found in birds. Researchers at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Oxford recently tested 30 species of birds across the UK. They found antibodies to the disease in half, which suggests they had been exposed to the disease. Sir Liam has ordered surveillance checks on birds and other animals that could carry the disease to be stepped up The Department of Health’s strategy for dealing with any outbreak is outlined in a 25-page document. Under the plan, doctors and other health staff would be sent details of how to identify and treat the virus as soon as a case is confirmed. Advice would also be issued to the public. The chief medical officer would set up a “central government team” to oversee the response to the outbreak. An incident control team would oversee the response at a local level, ensuring medical staff have the equipment they need and patients receive the care they need. Precaution Sir Liam said the strategy was a precaution. “The chances of West Nile Virus arriving in the UK are low. It would need a number of factors to conspire to increase the risk. “Factors such as climate change, long-haul travel and changes in land-use can facilitate the spread of infectious diseases in unpredictable directions. “However, the possibility cannot be ruled out and we have therefore produced this plan.” The report comes just days after the Health Protection Agency announced it had started to carry out its annual check for signs of the disease in the UK. Dr Dilys Morgan, who is spearheading the surveillance programme, said advice would be issued to doctors to look out for possible signs of the virus. “The UK is thought to be at low risk for human cases of West Nile Virus and to date, our surveillance has found no human cases in the UK, either amongst residents here or in people who have travelled to the US,” said Dr Morgan. “The agency, however, takes the potential threat to the UK seriously, and so advice is issued to doctors to consider West Nile virus as a possible diagnosis.” (Source: BBC Health News, May 2004)