West Nile Virus: 2004 Expected to Be Most Severe Year Yet

July 2004

With the 2004 season of West Nile virus (WNV) expected to be the most severe since its discovery in the U.S. in 1999, TFAH’s new report finds that the spread of the virus raises serious public health concerns and demonstrates the need for a shift in America’s approach to emerging infectious diseases. This is the first year that WNV is likely to significantly impact the nation coast-to-coast.

The report concludes that top concerns posed by WNV this year include how to most effectively:

  • Protect the most “at-risk” people such as senior citizens and people with compromised immune systems,
  • Investigate the possible link between WNV and birth defects,
  • Evaluate the risk/benefit of mosquito-reduction strategies,
  • Encourage private industry and/or government to speed development of a human vaccine for WNV, and
  • Diminish the hazard WNV poses to nationwide blood banks.

Shortcomings in responding to the virus in prior years contributed to the spread and have hindered the containment and control of the disease, according to the study. The problems with the WNV response efforts highlight systemic problems in the country’s emerging infectious disease management strategies in areas such as communication, contingency planning, and funding.

The TFAH report recommends several strategies for effective future containment of WNV and better readiness for future emerging infectious diseases.