HOUSTON—The West Nile virus is considered an acute threat, causing death or brain-related disability in a tiny fraction of cases, but a new Houston study suggests it routinely can result in serious, lasting damage, reported the Houston Chronicle.
Baylor College of Medicine researchers studying local people in years after they were infected with the mosquito-borne infection found four in 10 had varying stages of chronic kidney disease (CKD) related to the virus. The kidney disease is potentially fatal.
"This demonstrates that everybody, not just the elderly and the immune-compromised, needs to take precautions against mosquitoes," said Kristy Murray, a professor of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and the study's senior author. "Healthy people appear to be quite at risk of kidney disease from bites, too."
Murray said she was very surprised by the study findings—that West Nile-related kidney disease is occurring, that it's common and that it's even very likely to affect infected people who never had symptoms. She focused on kidney disease after learning about a few study participants' unexpected development of kidney problems.
Because of the study, published online in the journal PLoS, the team is advising doctors to screen patients with any history of West Nile infection for kidney disease and those with unexplained kidney disease for the virus, Murray said. She estimated that roughly 45,000 Houston-area people have been infected with the virus, many of whom don't know it.
Texas is in the midst of its most prolific West Nile season ever, although the greatest numbers by far are occurring in the northern part of the state. Dallas County has confirmed 270 human cases of West Nile disease and 11 deaths this year. Harris County has had 19 cases and three deaths.
Still, Harris County's deaths so far represent the most at this point of the season in recent years. Wednesday night, it conducted aerial spraying of 63,000 acres in the west and north.