West Nile could be deadlier than previously thought

The mosquito-borne virus West Nile may contribute to a patient's death years after the virus' original onset, according to a new study presented at the 2016 Meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in Atlanta.

For the study, researchers examined data on 4,144 West Nile virus infections that occurred in Texas between 2002 and 2012. The data included information on the first 90 days after infection — or the acute phase of illness ؅— and records from the Texas state death registry.

Overall, the team identified 286 people who died in the acute phase. Another 268 people survived past the acute phase of infection but died far sooner than other people of similar age and overall health condition. Rates of kidney disease, thought to be a long-term complication of West Nile infection, were high among the delayed death group. These deaths occurred up to ten years after the initial infection. Analysis revealed delayed deaths to be more common in patients who suffered substantial neurological complications during the first 90 days of the illness.

When combining both delayed deaths and deaths during the acute phase of illness, researchers attributed a 13 percent fatality rate to West Nile, which is significantly higher than the 4 percent rate put forth by the CDC.

"In much the same way that research into Zika virus is showing a more destructive virus than originally thought, we are still discovering previously unreported long-term destructive effects of West Nile," said Stephen Higgs, PhD, president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. "Those of us in the tropical medicine community have long been concerned that West Nile is a significant public health problem and that U.S. federal investments are warranted in finding better ways to treat and prevent it."

Symptoms of the virus include headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and rash. Most of those infected recover, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months after the illness' onset. Of those infected with West Nile, as many as 80 percent will never experience any symptoms.

More articles on infection control: 
Arkansas mumps outbreak spreading, cases approach 1,300 
Many people infected with Ebola may have no symptoms 
AACN issues practice alerts on CAUTIs, VTE and delirium

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