West Nile Virus study in full force during fall, winter seasons and year-round at UT Health Science Center Researchers seek West Nile Virus study participants

SAN ANTONIO (Dec. 6, 2007) – If you think West Nile Virus isn’t a threat during the fall and winter months, think again. With temperatures being milder during the fall in South Texas, mosquitoes are still active, and that means they’re still biting. In some cases, patients diagnosed with the illness during the winter acquire it while traveling through more tropical areas of the world.

While most mosquitoes are spending this season as eggs or are hibernating until the spring, researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio are busy studying the mosquito-borne illness, West Nile Virus, and are recruiting study participants from the community to help them fight this potentially deadly virus before it returns in full force next summer.

The first case of West Nile Virus in Texas was reported in 2002. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, nearly 1,500 confirmed cases have been reported in the state since then, with 116 being fatal.

Four of five sufferers experience no symptoms, and most others have milder manifestations, such as headache, fever and rash. However, some develop severe neurological problems, including convulsions, disorientation, vision loss, meningitis, encephalitis, coma and paralysis.

The UT Health Science Center is seeking individuals, who have experienced serious neurological problems from the illness, for an international West Nile Virus study called Population Genetics Analysis Program on West Nile Virus.

“Our goal is to determine whether or not genetics plays a role in how people’s bodies react to the West Nile Virus,” said Jan Evans Patterson, M.D., professor of medicine, infectious diseases and pathology at the UT Health Science Center.

“Some people get the severe form of the disease, while others don’t even know they have it,” she said. “We want to know if genetic factors make some people more susceptible to the severe form of the illness.”

The UT Health Science Center is the only site in Texas for this particular study, and the Health Science Center team also is recruiting participants from Boulder and Weld counties in Colorado.

The study, funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), includes two additional sites in the United States and one in Canada. They are:

• The Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha (covers Nebraska and North and South Dakota)
• The University of Pennsylvania (covers Pennsylvania, Cooke County, Ill., Indiana and Michigan)
• McMaster University, Hamilton, Ont., Canada (covers Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta)

Patients already diagnosed by a physician as having West Nile Virus and who have suffered severe neurological problems because of the illness are invited to participate in the study. “We need as many patients as possible for this study,” Dr. Patterson said. “The more patients, the better the study results will be, and the more likely that this study could lead to new treatments for the illness.”

About 400 participants are currently enrolled in the study. However, researchers seek to enroll more than 980. Patients are encouraged to join to learn why they became ill and possibly help prevent others from experiencing severe symptoms.

For more information or to join the study, call (210) 567-1949 or 1-800-768-0501.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $576 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $15.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $35 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 22,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and allied health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, allied health, dentistry and many other fields.

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