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Researchers Find Genes That Influence West Nile Virus
Date:8/6/2008

Could lead to way to prevent, treat disease in humans

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 6 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have zeroed in on more than 300 human genes that appear to impact West Nile virus infection of human cells.

Finding ways to interfere with how these genes work may provide ways to treat or even prevent infection.

"The point of the article was to determine what human genes are critical to or influence West Nile Virus infection," said Dr. Erol Fikrig, senior author of a paper in the current issue of Nature. "This indicates possible pathways for therapy."

The findings have significance not only for West Nile virus, but also for the whole family of flaviviruses, which include dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, tick-borne encephalitis and others.

"They're interested in identifying the genetic factors that regulate susceptibility to infection with a certain class of viruses, and among those viruses are some which are of public health importance," said Philip Alcabes, an associate professor of public health at the School of Health Sciences at Hunter College, City University of New York. "In theory, if you could identify the genetic factors that make cells susceptible to infection, you could do something about that to make people less susceptible."

But what form that intervention will take is, at this point, far from clear, Alcabes warned.

Since it first appeared in North America in 1999, West Nile virus has made its way across the continent and has infected humans in virtually every contiguous state. The virus is normally passed from an infected mosquito to a bird then, from the bird, to other mosquitoes. The mosquitoes then pass the virus on to humans.

People infected with West Nile can experience a range of symptoms, from mild, flu-like aches and pains to life-threatening encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

But the virus has a mere 10 proteins,
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