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Seventeen cases of infection with West Nile virus

09 August 2011 / 20:08:16  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

The number of people infected with the West Nile virus until now is seventeen. Two of them are in very serious condition and are being treated in intensive care.

According to experts, the number of the infected with the virus is expected to grow in the next period. Last year, the epidemic that raged in the country for the first time caused the death of 35 people. All of them were elder and suffered from various other diseases.

The cases of infection registered from August to November 2010 were 262. Of them, 191 were serious, since the virus caused encephalitis, meningitis or acute flaccid paralysis. In the remaining 71 cases, the symptoms were mild and with high temperature mainly.

GRReporter contacted Professor of Parasitology, Entomology and Tropical Diseases at the National School of Public Health Nikolaos Vakalis, who stressed the importance of taking timely measures to limit the risk of infection.

Mr. Vakalis, would you tell us something more about the West Nile virus?

In general, the infection causes no troubles. Many people do not stay at home while ill and only one per cent could have symptoms in the central nervous system. It is more dangerous for people over 50 years of age and immune suppressed persons.

How has the virus reached Greece and caused epidemics?

The virus has been identified in 1937. It has existed in different regions in the world ever since then. In Europe, the first outbreak of the West Nile virus was in Romania in 1996, where the registered cases of severe infection were 500. Four years later, it reached the USA and appeared for the first time in a park in New York. In the following years, it spread throughout all the states and settled there. The virus has been considered endemic in the USA from ten years.

We have had the virus for 20 years, but had no troubles with it. For the first time last year, we had increased number of cases of severe infection. This was an epidemic, accompanied by about 300 cases of infection and 35 deaths.

How does the virus spread?

In nature, it spreads among mosquitoes and wild birds. This is its circle. Humans and horses are incidental victims of the infection.

Could social contact or blood transfusion transmit it?

The virus can not be transmitted from one person to another. However, the infection can spread through blood transfusion. The national service for blood donations is observing this very thin line. Because, as I said, a large number of people are suffering from the disease without symptoms and it is possible to donate blood without knowing they are infected. Therefore, it was decided two days ago that the blood donated in the affected areas should be tested molecularly before being transfused.

How can we prevent ourselves?

Because mainly mosquitoes spread the infection, we should limit their populations. The fight against mosquitoes should be the same throughout the country. This process should begin in April by monitoring the temperature all around the country. Sometimes, when there are no synchronized actions in different regions it is possible to register a large increase in the number of mosquitoes in some places.

This and last year, Greek authorities have taken successive actions against mosquitoes, the fight in all the regions has not started at the same time, nor was it equally effective everywhere. Therefore, the number of mosquitoes registered was very large in places.

However, it should be noted that the weather conditions were more particular the last and this year. Atmospheric humidity combined with high temperatures helped the populations of mosquitoes increase.

Unlike last year, this year, health authorities took steps early on, but they are not responsible for the implementation of all control measures. However, there were mass campaigns even in March to inform all authorities, local governments, health centres and schools how to protect ourselves.

In parallel, measures were adopted for the early detection of the danger. One of them is checking whether mosquitoes in an area carry the virus. This year, we have 100 places from which we take mosquitoes at frequent intervals and test them whether they are carriers of West Nile virus. If the test is positive, additional sprayings are made in the relevant areas.

There was such spraying in Maratonas last night where the tests showed they are infected. Insecticide with a special composition called the ULV was used. It covers the entire area just three hours after spraying and prevents the migration of mosquitoes from one place to another.

Is there a vaccine against the West Nile virus?

No, there is not vaccine found yet. Nevertheless, there is caution. There are three crises committees in northern Greece, the Peloponnese and Attica respectively in order to make the decisions for taking prompt and necessary measures.

Tags: SocietyWest Nile virusInfectionEpidemicDeathsPreventive measuresMosquitos
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