Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Proliferating West Nile Virus Can Pose A Threat Due To Its Resistance Against Treatment

The West Nile (WN) virus is a serious illness that is thought to have originated from Eastern Africa. This virus was indigenous to Africa, Asia, Europe, and Australia but has been spreading to other parts of the country lately. The virus is transferred from birds to mosquitoes, and these mosquitoes can then infect other animals by biting them. The WN virus continues to cause harm and can become a major problem to both animals and humans unless action is taken.

The Virus Can Have a Wide Range of Symptoms in Infected People

The reason that the virus needs to be controlled and eliminated is because it can elicit serious, mild, or no symptoms from the host. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list some serious symptoms such as high fever, headache, coma, muscle weakness, vision loss, and paralysis. Serious symptoms are relatively rare in people infected with the WN virus because only 1 in 150 people experience them. Milder symptoms occur in about 20% of infected people and can range from fever, headache, nausea, body aches, to vomiting. The WN virus is unique since 80% of infected people show no symptoms at all. Since 1999, the number of cases of WN virus has increased on a large scale, but the number of recorded cases do not account for all WN virus infections because a majority of infected people never find out they have it.

These symptoms are experienced by many people around the country and world. Marie Wagner, a sophomore at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, was infected by the WN virus and was lucky enough to only have mild symptoms:

There is No Treatment or Vaccine Yet for the Virus

A lot of research is being done to find an effective vaccine, but the results continue to be inadequate. The virus is able to quickly adapt to different experimental treatments, rendering potential cures ineffective before they can eliminate the virus. This virus resembles many other common ones in that it can spread quickly and survive for prolonged periods of time as long as it is attached to the host, thus engaging in a parasitic relationship.

Brenda Fredericksen, a biological researcher and professor at the University of Maryland, researches the WN virus in order to determine why it blocks the experimental host treatments. Like many others in the field, she attempts to determine how viruses function and how to eradicate it.  In an interview, she explains how the virus is able to evade antiviral response:

Fredericksen describes how interferons could be used in their recombinant form to counteract the WN virus as a possible method for treatment. Research has been conducted on interferons but the results are inconclusive because only a few studies show that people who receive interferon actually benefit in comparison to those who do not receive the interferon. Research is still being conducted in order to find a functional treatment, but it may or may not be produced on a mass scale depending on the cost of production and on how widespread and dangerous the severity of the disease is.

The Virus can be Prevented through Mosquito Control and Public Education

Since no cure currently exists, it is imperative that the public know about the virus and understand the implications on their health if infection occurs. Since the virus is spread by mosquitos, effective control methods should be taken in order to minimize contact with the insects and decrease their population. By doing so, contact with the virus will decline and there will be a smaller chance of getting infected with the WN virus. In order to be successful in controlling the spread of WN virus and mosquitoes, it is important to know specific information and precautions that have to be taken for the safety of the people.

Mosquitoes are the major carriers that transmit it to humans, but only certain species of mosquitoes have the virus in select regions. Therefore, knowing which species are responsible for “bridging” the virus to humans is crucial for taking the appropriate actions regarding pesticide application. The breeding sites of these mosquito species also need to be known so that they do not spread into human-populated areas and create an outbreak. In addition to mosquito control, people should also know what WN virus is, what common symptoms are, and what they should do if they think they have it. If severe symptoms of WN virus are observed, it is highly advised to seek medical attention. If only mild symptoms are seen, then the virus will probably be eradicated from the body in a matter of some days.

Currently, there is no effective treatment or vaccine that works best for the WN virus. Because of this, caution must be taken and the public should be alert and informed about what WN virus is and how it can be acquired. As technology advances, breakthroughs will be made in virology and the West Nile virus will be understood much more than it is today. It is only a matter of time until this virus becomes a thing of the past and is no longer a threat.

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