Return of the killer virus in New York : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

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It was the news that researchers were dreading. A dead red-tailed hawk, found in Bronxville, a suburb of New York, was last week found to be carrying the fatal West Nile virus that terrorised the city last year. Now the entire East and Gulf coasts of the United States are braced for the imminent return of a mysterious killer which may strike with enhanced ferocity. 'It's time. The virus is out there,' said pathologist Ward Stone as he emerged from a sealed laboratory where he had examined the hawk. West Nile encephalitis's first dramatic appearance in the Western hemisphere - in a cluster of cases in Queens, New York - sent the city into a frenzy in August. Helicopters sprayed entire neighbourhoods with disinfectant after the disease killed horses, thousands of birds and several people. Symptoms began with flu-like shivers and were followed by fever, disorientation and brain swelling that led to death in seven out of the 62 cases of people affected by the virus.

Scientists at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, had hoped the illness - spread by mosquitoes from birds to humans - would die out over winter. Now their hopes have been dashed. Apart from the hawk, mosquitoes hibernating in underground rooms beneath the historic Fort Totten district of Queens have been found to be virus-positive. As America's East Coast begins to warm, mosquitoes carrying the West Nile killer are expected to spread further than last year. As Nicholas Kramer of the CDC said: 'The virus is still here and there is a good chance it will amplify this summer.'

Warning circulars have been posted to all New York doctors and emergency instructions for citizens are being drafted, while it has been decreed that all dead birds must be handed in to health authorities. This weekend a sad stream of dead birds was being directed to New York state pathology laboratories.

What really alarms American health officials is the danger of the disease establishing itself permanently in the country. But what will happen if migrating birds have already begun to spread West Nile across eastern America? The next months will be the 'test of how long-lasting or fleeting' West Nile is in the US, said Dr Roger Nasei, of the CDC.

Californian expert Ian Lipkin said last week 'there is definitely a cause for concern'. But his fears were countered by CDC expert Duane Gubler, who said it was still possible this year's outbreak could be contained. The species of mosquito most closely linked to the virus does not emerge until later in the spring when a mass spraying campaign begins.

The aim will be to eliminate larvae and breeding sites. Property owners will be told to unclog roof gutters, empty or chlorinate swimming pools, and throw away old tyres and buckets.

A more worrying prospect has been raised by virologists in Britain. West Nile disease is closely related to the illness St Louis encephalitis, which is fairly common in America. That raises the fear that people already infected with the latter may become especially vulnerable to West Nile disease.

'There is a process called antibody dependent enhancement,' said Dr Ernie Gould, deputy director of the Institute of Virology and Environmental Microbiology in Oxford. 'We have observed it in other diseases, and I believe it could happen with West Nile.'

In short, America faces the threat of a deadly new epidemic. The next few months will determine how serious that danger is.

(UK 'Observer')

-- Risteard Mac Thomais (, March 20, 2000


***The species of mosquito most closely linked to the virus does not emerge until later in the spring when a mass spraying campaign begins. ***

Mass spraying campaign???

-- cin (, March 20, 2000.

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