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Japanese scientists join quest for West Nile Virus answers

Date Posted: 2005-03-11

West Nile Virus is a known killer.

The dangerous disease is routinely spread by birds, mosquitoes, and even humans. West Nile fever victims are now being found in the West Siberia District of Russia, and Japanese health officials are stepping in to offer assistance.

There are no West Nile patients in Japan, but health officials point out the migratory bird patterns travel to Japan, and Okinawa too. They want to help prevent an outbreak in Japan.

The Japanese Infection Disease Institutes have begun research on the Russian virus biotechnology. Siberia’s west is a hard country, frigid cold in winter with temperatures to –50C, and hot in summer with thermometers climbing to 40C. This breeds strong mosquitoes, the scientists say, leading to active infection in the marsh bogs, then onto crows and wild ducks and swans feeding. Those migratory birds travel to Japan, and many have already been discovered to be virus carriers.

In a four-month period last year, three active cases hit Siberia, where doctors discovered encephalitis, West Nile antibodies and patients with high fever. Specialists say the infectious disease is causing many cases in Siberia. West Nile Fever is described as nearly rampant, and because of the region’s sparse population, there are concerns it could decimate the communities.

The Japanese research is focusing on the birds, with emphasis on those who migrate to Japan and Okinawa. The first goal is to prevent outbreaks here, with a byproduct being ways to control and cure the disease for those in Siberia.

The standard cautions are being put forth by infectious disease specialists. Avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. They’re the dangerous bugs. Wear long sleeve clothing when outside, particularly in the evenings.

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