News / Africa

West Nile Virus Costs US $780 Million

Mosquitoes are sorted at the Dallas County mosquito lab in Dallas, Aug. 16, 2012.
Mosquitoes are sorted at the Dallas County mosquito lab in Dallas, Aug. 16, 2012.

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +
Joe DeCapua
It’s been 14 years since West Nile Virus disease arrived in the United States. A new study says the disease has cost about $780 million in health care costs and lost productivity.


Before 1999, West Nile Virus had not been detected outside the Eastern Hemisphere. That changed following reports in the U.S. of serious infections and deaths.

Dr. Erin Staples is a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – and the lead author of the study, which appears in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. She said the virus is carried by infected mosquitoes.

“Once people get bitten and infected by the virus a fair proportion will actually not develop any symptoms. But a proportion will go on to develop either a febrile illness with muscle aches and feeling generally unwell. And in a small proportion of people that get infected – they’ll go on to develop kind of a more severe presentation or clinical manifestations, which include what we call neuro-invasive disease. That means infections of the nervous system,” she said.

These include encephalitis, meningitis and acute flaccid paralysis, where part or all of the body is paralyzed.

She said, “Anybody can be infected by West Nile Virus – anybody that’s going outdoors – potentially getting exposed to mosquitoes – can get infected. But we tend to see kind of the more severe manifestation in people that are older than the age of 50. Otherwise, we’ve seen that some people with underlying medical conditions also might be at more risk for being hospitalized if they do get West Nile Virus infection and disease – as well as they’re more likely to potentially die due to the infection.”

From its arrival through 2012, there have been more than 37,000 cases of West Nile Virus in the United States.

“Following its introduction into the United States in 1999, it started in the Northeast and then spread across the country. So by 2003 we had seen West Nile Virus disease occur from coast to coast. And then since that time, we are considering it – what we call – an endemic disease, meaning that it will continue to occur,” said Staples.

Of the more than 37,000 cases, over 1,500 patients died. About 16,000 patients had neurologic disease and over 18,000 required hospitalization.

“However,” Staples said, “we do expect that that is an underestimate of the number of people infected, as well as the number of people that might have gotten sick. And some of that is due to the fact that not everybody that gets sick will actually choose to go to the doctor and be seen for their symptoms, particularly, maybe the less severe manifestations or the fever with muscle aches.”

There is a test for West Nile virus, usually using a blood sample or cerebral spinal fluid or the fluid around the brain. This may be done when patients show symptoms of neurological problems.

Dr. Staples said that besides the health concerns, it’s also important to know the effects of the nearly $780 million cost of the disease.

“The reason we really wanted to do that is to allow different organizations – whether it be policymakers, public health or researchers in both academia and industry – to better assess and understand the impact West Nile Virus is having on them. Not only from the morbidity, the number of cases and the mortality, but also from the economic perspective.”

Little is known about the long-term effects of West Nile Virus disease. There are no medications to treat it and no vaccines to prevent it. Medical care can be expensive -- tens of thousands of dollars, for example, for those who suffer from partial or whole body paralysis. The study said patients who were hospitalized “were absent from work or school for a median 42 days.”

The CDC epidemiologist said, “National surveillance efforts are critical in determining where and when outbreaks of mosquito or tick-borne diseases occur.”

That allows health officials to react quickly and empty standing water areas where mosquitoes might breed or begin community insecticide spraying. Using insect repellent can also help.

The World Health Organization says the disease was first discovered in 1937 in the West Nile District of Uganda.

You May Like

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

46 people are confirmed dead, but some 250 remain trapped inside sunken ferry More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid