Researchers Find First Drug To Fight West Nile Virus
WebMD News Archive
July 27, 2000 -- There's good news and bad news in the battle
against the deadly West Nile virus. The bad news is that a sick child in
Massachusetts is being tested for the disease. This comes days after a dead
crow infected with the virus was found in Boston -- the first evidence of the
virus outside of New York City.
On a brighter note, in a study that is being released early due
to its potential public health implications, researchers have found the first
drug able to fight the deadly West Nile virus -- at least in the laboratory.
The drug, ribavirin, is already commonly used to help people with hepatitis C.
Further study is needed to discover if it can work against the West Nile virus
in real-life cases. The study will be published in the Journal of Infectious
The West Nile virus appeared for the first time in North
America just last summer. The disease lives in wild birds, and mosquitos get it
from biting the birds and carry it to humans.
The virus is common in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Many
people in those areas build up resistance to it and can carry the virus without
having any symptoms.
Last August, West Nile virus appeared in New York City,
affecting 62 people, almost all of them 50 years old or older. Seven people
died from the disease. In mild cases, patients experience fever, a rash, aches,
and pains. In the most serious cases, the virus leads to swelling of the brain,
known as encephalitis.
On Monday, mosquitoes carrying the disease were discovered in
Central Park. 30,000 people were planning to attend a free outdoor concert by
the New York Philharmonic, but Mayor Rudolph Giuliani canceled the concert and
shut down the park so it could be sprayed with insecticide. More mosquito
spraying is scheduled throughout the city.
This year, no confirmed human cases of West Nile virus have
been found in North America. However, birds or mosquitoes carrying the virus
have been identified in three of New York City's boroughs and several suburban
counties around the city.
Some city residents are concerned about the harmful effects of
insect sprays and claim New York City officials are overreacting. Timothy
Babinchak, MD, doesn't think so. "This does need to be taken seriously, and
attempts to limit spread of the virus are very important," he says.
"Keep in mind this virus is completely new to us, since it has just been
imported to this country. Therefore people haven't developed any natural
immunity to it. It also has very serious consequences -- not only in terms of
death, but also significant [brain] problems in people who survive. At the same
time, people should not panic, because this does remain an uncommon
infection." Babinchak is clinical director of infectious diseases at Thomas
Jefferson University Hospital and associate professor of medicine at Jefferson
Medical College in Philadelphia.