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Medical News and Perspectives
May 14, 2003

As West Nile Virus Season Heats Up, Blood Safety Testing Lags Behind

JAMA. 2003;289(18):2341-2342. doi:10.1001/jama.289.18.2341

The late March deaths of two sparrows and a blue jay in Louisiana signaled the beginning of the 2003 West Nile virus season in the United States. That means the clock is ticking for those charged with protecting the US blood supply to implement safety testing before the virus returns to its expected epidemic proportions.

West Nile virus, a mosquito-borne flavivirus, is a human, equine, and avian neuropathogen. In humans, most of those infected with the virus are asymptomatic, but about 20% develop West Nile fever, an infection usually characterized by mild flu-like symptoms. A small number of infected humans—about one person in 150, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—develop West Nile encephalitis or meningitis, which can lead to stupor, coma, paralysis, and death.

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