Another West Nile Virus Summer?
Eyes are turning to California as encephalitis season starts.
Work is under way on a West Nile vaccine. The vaccine farthest
along uses the backbone of the existing live-virus yellow fever vaccine. That,
however, may be a problem.
"The yellow fever vaccine backbone has been associated with
severe adverse events in elderly patients -- multisystem organ failure,"
Campbell says. "That will be a thorny issue. Because now you are talking
about taking that backbone and putting it into thousands of elderly
Other types of West Nile vaccine are in the early stages of
Meanwhile, there's a good way to make sure you don't get the
West Nile virus: Avoid mosquito bites. When the blood-sucking varmints appear,
limit your out-of-doors time in the early evening. When you do go out, wear
long sleeves and use a DEET-containing mosquito repellent on exposed skin.
And keep mosquito populations down. Search your house and yard
for places where water pools: clogged gutters, flowerpots, discarded tires, and
so on. Be sure birdbaths get frequent changes of water. And keep the grass low
in yards and empty lots.
It is possible to get West Nile virus from a blood
transfusion, from an organ donation, or from breast milk. But these types of
transmission will be vanishingly small this year. Tests of donated blood and
organs keep the risk of transfusion and transplant infections very low. And the
benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh the slight risk of West Nile
Published April 15, 2004.