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Medical Malpractice-West Nile Virus

Medical Malpractice-West Nile Virus

West Nile virus first arrived in the U. S. in 1999 when it was determined that it had, in fact, killed eight people in the city of New York.  The virus itself was first described in Uganda in 1937.  It is transmitted by infected birds who transmit the virus to mosquitoes which in turn infect people.  Medical practitioners need to be sensitive to the existence of this disease not only from a treatment point of view but also from a medical malpractice point of view. 

Recent strains of the virus have been thought to attack the brain more aggressively than was previously appreciated. 

Dr. Art Leis of Jackson, Mississippi has treated a number of West Nile virus cases.  He has seen the virus damaging speech, language and thinking centers of the brain.  In addition, Dr. Elizabeth Angus of Detroit has noticed brain damage in people that previously were not affected by West Nile virus, i.e. young and previously healthy patients.  Previously the disease had been most focused on the elderly and sick patients.  The Washington Post in November 2012 reports that in addition a Texas virologist has found signs of genetic changes in the virus collected from the Houston area. 

In the past the virus typically invaded the brain and spinal cord only in those individuals who had a weakened immune system such as the elderly and transplant or cancer patients.  Dr. Angus has found that is no longer the case and now previously healthy patients are being affected.  The disease process is referred to as severe encephalitis.  That is an inflammation of the brain. 

For the year 2012 health authorities have reported more than 5,000 cases and 228 deaths in 48 states.  The Center for Disease Control has classified approximately half of these cases as being “neuroinvasive” meaning that they invade the neurological system.  Also troubling is the fact that recent cases have also been found to be infecting the lower brain stem rather than simply the higher portions of the cerebrum that control speech and language.          

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