West Nile virus: Be smart, don't panic

September 5, 2012 by Fredda Sacharow, Rutgers University
West Nile virus: Be smart, don't panic
A culprit: Aedes albopictus--the Asian tiger mosquito--is a bearer of West Nile virus, and will readily bite. Credit: Scott Crans

The current outbreak of West Nile virus may prove to be the worst since the disease was first recorded in New York 13 years ago, and it shows no indication of slowing down. As of the beginning of this month, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had received more than 1,850 reports of West Nile virus cases across the country, and more than 40 deaths.

Rutgers Today: The New York Times reported on Aug. 27 that West Nile virus may ultimately turn up in every state, yet say they have no concrete evidence as to why this year is worse than previous years. What are some working theories about why we're being hit so hard this time around? And is it time to panic?

Center for Vector Biology: First, there is never a need to panic, as this disease is very manageable given the proper tools, information and available . Some years are worse than others, which might be explained by conditions such as drought (as experienced by the Midwest this year) that brings (carriers) and bird carriers of the disease together, and/or changes in the virus itself.

Rutgers Today: Can you explain the trajectory the virus takes as it travels from infected bird to mosquito to human?

Center: A may bite an affected bird in order to get a blood meal. The protein in the blood is used to develop eggs. If the bird was infected, the virus will end up in the mosquito's gut. The virus travels from the gut to the salivary glands of the mosquito. When a second blood meal is taken, the mosquito will inject some when "biting," because the in the saliva make it easier to suck blood. The injection of saliva delivers the virus to whoever is supplying the blood, be it another bird, a horse or a human.

Rutgers Today: What are the symptoms, and how long after exposure are they likely to appear? Once a person has shown the first symptoms, how long does it take for the virus to run its course, and what long-term effects might it leave behind?

Center: It's estimated that about 80 percent of all people exposed to West Nile virus will not show any symptoms. Most of the rest develop what is termed West Nile fever, which is much like a summer cold: fever, headache, fatigue, and sometimes a rash, swollen glands and eye pain. It may be severe enough to send you to a doctor. About one in 150 will develop what is called West Nile neuroinvasive disease, which produces central nervous system symptoms such as paralysis and changes in mental status. The incubation period is about two to 14 days. For more severe forms of the disease, the amount of time it takes to run its course is variable, and can leave long-term effects. The mortality rate for those with the most severe form is between 3 and 15 percent.

Rutgers Today: In New Jersey, all 21 counties have mosquito-control programs of some sort, and your experts are playing a large role. Please tell us where you're focusing your efforts.

Center:  At Rutgers, research is being done on developing an effective strategy for controlling one of the competent vectors of West Nile virus, the Asian tiger mosquito, or Aedes albopictus. Other research areas include examining the efficacy of various new pesticides and pesticide resistance, as well as basic research on the biology and ecology of the main mosquito vectors. We offer classes to mosquito-control personnel on how to identify mosquitoes by species, habitat and biology, aiding in their integrated pest management strategies, and we report on arbovirus levels and mosquito population trends during the mosquito season.

Rutgers Today: What steps can people take to minimize the risk of contracting the disease?

Center: There are several things people can do to reduce the risk of getting bitten. These are called the five Ds: Use Deet (read the instructions and see http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/RepellentUpdates.htm); Dress with long sleeves and pants; avoid Dusk and Dawn, when are most active; and Drain water from around your house, including spots such as pots, gutters, bird baths and other containers.

Rutgers Today: What are the long-term public health implications of West Nile virus, and what measures is the federal government taking to contain future risks?

Center: West Nile is an excellent example of the global reach any organism can have on this planet. Because of the ease of travel and the growth of human population in new habitats, we can expect new diseases to make their presence known by emerging in potentially deadly ways. should be interpreted as a wake-up call for the need to step up coordinated efforts to reduce introduction, establishment and expansion of new invasive vectors and diseases.

Explore further: Mosquito sample with West Nile virus found in Oakley, Calif.

Related Stories

Mosquito sample with West Nile virus found in Oakley, Calif.

August 24, 2011
A mosquito carrying the West Nile virus was discovered in eastern Contra Costa County, Calif., marking the first time this year vector control officials have found such a sample in the county, a spokeswoman said Friday.

Most people exposed to West Nile virus never have symptoms, but prevention is best defense

August 28, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—While the death toll from the West Nile virus cases in the U.S., currently 41, is alarming, most people exposed to it never develop symptoms, notes Tom Russo, MD, professor of medicine at the University ...

One dead in Serbian West Nile virus outbreak

September 4, 2012
An outbreak of the West Nile virus in Serbia has killed an elderly woman and infected 20 other people with the mosquito-borne disease, health officials said Tuesday.

Texas Tech researcher cites complacency, apathy for recent West Nile outbreak

September 3, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—With almost 1,600 cases of West Nile Virus and 66 mortalities reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nationwide, officials are calling the recent West Nile virus outbreak the largest ...

West Nile virus on the rise in US: CDC

August 2, 2012
(HealthDay) -- With 241 cases of West Nile virus and four related deaths reported so far this year, the United States is experiencing the biggest spike in the mosquito-borne illness since 2004, health officials report.

Chicago man diagnosed with West Nile virus

August 3, 2007
Officials at the Chicago Department of Public Health are trying to find out how a 47-year-old man contracted West Nile encephalitis.

Recommended for you

A new approach to developing a vaccine against vivax malaria

September 21, 2018
A novel study reports an innovative approach for developing a vaccine against Plasmodium vivax, the most prevalent human malaria parasite outside sub-Saharan Africa. The study led by Hernando A. del Portillo and Carmen Fernandez-Becerra, ...

Pre-clinical success for a universal flu vaccine offers hope for third generation approach

September 21, 2018
Researchers from the University of Oxford's Department of Zoology have demonstrated pre-clinical success for a universal flu vaccine in a new paper published in Nature Communications.

Researchers define possible molecular pathway for neurodegeneration in prion diseases

September 21, 2018
A new study has shed light on the mechanisms underlying the progression of prion diseases and identified a potential target for treatment.

Fighting a deadly parasite: Scientists devise a method to store Cryptosporidium, aiding vaccine research efforts

September 21, 2018
In May, just before one of the hottest summers on record, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning about diseases lurking in recreational water facilities like swimming pools and water playgrounds. ...

Scientists make significant discovery in the fight against drug-resistant tuberculosis

September 20, 2018
A team of scientists have identified a naturally occurring antibiotic that may help in the fight against drug-resistant Tuberculosis.

Anti-cancer drugs may hold key to overcoming antimalarial drug resistance

September 20, 2018
Scientists have found a way to boost the efficacy of the world's most powerful antimalarial drug with the help of chemotherapy medicines, according to new research published in the journal Nature Communications.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.