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University Participating in West Nile Vaccine Trial

Vanderbilt University Medical Center researchers, in collaboration with investigators at Johns Hopkins University, are beginning a Phase I trial to test// a new vaccine against the West Nile virus.

The mosquito-borne virus, which can cause serious illness, is making its yearly appearance in Middle Tennessee. While no human cases of West Nile have been reported in the state so far this season, mosquitoes collected from around Nashville have tested positive for the virus.

"When West Nile virus first appeared in the United States five or six years ago, it spread remarkably quickly across the country," said Peter Wright, M.D., professor of Pediatrics, Microbiology and Immunology, and Pathology, who is heading up Vanderbilt's efforts in the trial. "There's no part of the country that has not experienced human and bird cases of West Nile."

Although around 80 percent of people infected by West Nile virus show no symptoms, up to 20 percent can experience moderate or severe symptoms ranging from fever, headaches and neck stiffness to neurological problems, paralysis and coma. About one in 150 people infected develop severe illness. People over the age of 50 are at the highest risk, but even healthy people can experience debilitating symptoms lasting several weeks.

There are currently no specific treatments or vaccines to combat West Nile infection, so those infected are consigned to letting the illness run its natural course.

While it is not clear who would most benefit from a West Nile vaccine, Wright suggests that it could be beneficial to certain high-risk populations, such as the elderly, people who work outside and have frequent exposure to mosquitoes, or those in specific geographic regions where West Nile cases are detected.

Finding an effective vaccine against West Nile could also open doors to developing vaccines for other insect-borne illnesses like Dengue fever, which are a priority for vaccin
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