West Nile virus

Ken Kinman kinman2 at YAHOO.COM
Wed Nov 3 22:45:49 CST 2004

I wasn't able to track down the interview on NPR, but I think mutations in the virus are certainly something that should concern us.  Especially the sudden increased virulence in birds as it invaded North America, which not only threatens bird diversity, but also that a future mutant could start striking down people like crows.  By then it will be too late, and we will have to play catch up.  As for crows, I am still not so sure mosquitoes are the only source of their infections, and that many are getting it by scavenging on dead mammals or other birds.  And zoo animals fed horsemeat are perhaps more likely to get it from that source than from infected mosquitoes.

      As for how the WN virus was introduced into North America in the first place, the infections in birds, horses, and in humans, ALL began on Long Island.  Therefore, it is not particularly surprising that suspicions have be aroused about the virus research center on Plum Island.  An accident in that aging facility seems somewhat likely (at least more likely than my earlier thoughts on Newburgh), given the proximity of Plum Island especially to the epicenter of horse fatalities from the virus on northeastern Long Island.

      If so, the most likely scenario might be crows feeding on infected animal flesh, spreading it to mosquitoes, and then to horses in the area (and also to certain "outdoorsy" humans in Queens later in 1999).  From that point on, the epidemiology would get even more complicated, but shipping infected horsemeat from Pennsylvania (2000-2001) to Florida alligator farms certainly didn't help matters.   I still wouldn't be surprised if that is how it also got to California so quickly.  Zoos in particular should be very careful if they buy horsemeat to feed their animals.
              ----- Ken Kinman

James Bass wrote:
A month or so back, in an interview on National Public Radio (U.S.), an environmental epidemiologist (whose name I didn't get) said that of the current major "threats" (SARS, HIV/AIDS, avian flu, etc) the one that scared him most was West Nile virus.  His reasoning was that it quickly mutated to previously unexpected vectors (species) and the possibility of greater threat may be yet to come.
Perhaps a search of the NPR archives would reveal more.

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