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Study Shows 1% of Americans Have Been Infected With West Nile
Date:9/9/2009

Virus typically produces mild infection, but severe reactions can result

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 9 (HealthDay News) -- One in every 100 Americans has been infected with the West Nile virus, whether they know it or not.

That number has grown steadily since the virus first appeared in North America in 1999, according to a study in the October issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Several West Nile vaccine trials are under way or are being planned, and these findings could not only help yield needed antibodies to the virus, they may help determine future vaccines' effectiveness, said the study authors, from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Baxter Bioscience.

"It's important to know this because we don't test people routinely for West Nile virus," said Dr. Maria Alcaide, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

The majority of people -- about 80 percent -- who become infected with West Nile virus have no symptoms at all. Up to 20 percent may experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache and body aches or even nausea and vomiting. Only about one in 150 people will suffer severe illness, resulting in meningitis or encephalitis. People aged 50 and older are at higher risk for developing severe complications.

The authors of the study tested lots of blood donations for the presence of antibodies to the West Nile virus, then extrapolated this number to the general population. Each lot contained blood donations from thousands of individuals, making the testing process much more efficient.

"If you looked at each individual, you would have to do thousands of tests to find one infection," Alcaide explained.

In 2003, about one half of 1 percent of the U.S. population had been infected with the virus. Today the number is approximately 1 percent, which corresponds well with other estimates, the study autho
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