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West Nile virus: Of research and repellents

July 21, 2008 | 11:00 am

Newblood

The virus is making headlines across the country -- whether or not it's actually been found in humans. In Southern California: Two in Orange County ill with West Nile virus; two others infected. In Boston: West Nile virus twice found near Route 9. In New York: West Nile virus links in Nassau, Suffolk. In Nashville: Mosquitoes with West Nile virus found in Nashville. And pretty much everywhere else.

Among those people infected with West Nile virus, four of five won't have any symptoms. (Here's a CDC fact sheet on the disease and its signs.) They'll blithely go about their picnicking and ball playing and boating with no ill effects whatsoever. But because the virus can be so serious for older people, those with compromised immune systems and others (who may least expect it), it pays to not become too accustomed to headlines -- or the efforts to reduce the disease.

So perhaps it's time to look at the efforts to thwart the virus.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases offers this dandy overview of basic research. At the top of the list of goals is: "Determine how the virus replicates and spreads throughout the body in order to develop vaccines and drugs to prevent and treat disease." Also included is the attempt to better understand the viral proteins, the immune system response and migrating bird populations (animals and birds are part of the virus' environment too, not just humans).

If that whets your appetite for actual science, here's a link to research articles available from the National Library of Medicine. They're not for the easily intimidated. One article is titled "Tumor necrosis factor-{alpha} protects against lethal West Nile virus infection by promoting trafficking of mononuclear leukocytes into the central nervous system."

Too much? Maybe so. The CDC offers a balance of readable wonkishness here (data, information -- and maps!).

Of course, if your interest in science extends only so far as to wonder which insect repellent has been proven most effective, here's a recent L.A. Times story, With mosquito season in full force, learn to bite back, that tells you just that.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Vials of blood are readied for West Nile virus screening.

Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

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