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Progress Made Against West Nile Virus

Tuesday, 07 August 2012 11:18 AM

Canadian researchers have announced a significant scientific advance in the fight against West Nile Virus, as federal health officials are reporting an early start to the WVN season – with more cases of the mosquito-borne illness diagnosed so far this year than any since 2004.
Scientists from the University of Alberta said they have discovered how the virus infects the nervous system – a finding that could boost efforts to combat the sometimes-deadly illness.
In research published in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One, Tom Hobman said virologists have determined the virus breaks down two vital proteins that make up a part of the so-called “blood-brain barrier,” which keeps pathogens circulating in the blood from entering the brain and the nervous system.
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"What we found in infected cells is there's less of [the] two proteins…," said Hobman. "Once we understand how West Nile virus affects the pathways that control the tight junctions of the blood-brain barrier, it may be possible to design drugs that prevent infection of the brain. I expect this will also be the case for related viruses that infect the central nervous system."
WNV typically produces flu-like symptoms that aren't life-threatening, but a significant percentage of patients develop serious neurological conditions including inflammation in the brain, paralysis and seizures.
Hobman’s findings build on work his lab conducted last year that showed blocking the action of a specific cellular protein cut the infectivity of WNV by more than 100 times.
The new research comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 241 human WNV cases have been confirmed in 22 states, including four deaths, through the end of July. Texas has seen the bulk of them.
Health officials said a mild winter, early spring and very hot summer boosted populations of mosquitoes that pick up the virus from birds they bite and spread it to people.
To prevent WNV infection, health experts advise avoiding mosquitos, using insect repellants, putting screens on doors and windows, and clearing standing water around the house to discourage mosquito breeding.
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As the CDC reports an early start to West Nile Virus season, researchers announce a big step toward fighting WNV.
Tuesday, 07 August 2012 11:18 AM
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