Researchers working on West Nile Virus vaccine

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Researchers at Pitt are working on a vaccine to stop the spread of West Nile Virus.

Federal health officials believe the current outbreak is the largest in the U.S.

Already, more than 1,100 cases have been reported in 38 states, including here in Pennsylvania, where eight people have been diagnosed with the virus.

Nationwide, 41 people have died from it, none in Pennsylvania.

Domingo Villa spent 11 days in the hospital because of it.

“I was feeling real drowsy, real weak and everything, started having problems breathing and went to lay down to see if things would get better,” he said.

Villa lives in Texas, the hardest hit area in the country, but officials are recording a near record number of illnesses even here in Pennsylvania.

“Eight confirmed cases in people, five of them have been severe, involving the central nervous system,” said Jared Evans, a virologist at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Vaccine Research.

Workers there have been working for the past five years to develop a vaccine for West Nile Virus.

The vaccine won’t be on the market for another five to 10 years, but the need for it is on the rise.

Evans said the virus no longer discriminates.

“The primary age group for the people that have been ill in Pennsylvania this year have been in the 40 to 59 range, and prior to that those people were generally not affected. So it can affect anyone,” he said.

The major reason for the spike in cases has been the weather.

“It was a very mild winter across the entire country, and there was an early spring and a very warm summer so far,” Evans explained. “That plus intermittent rainfall leads to higher mosquito populations.”

In Allegheny County, the assault on West Nile Virus includes pesticide spraying.

People are being warned to empty standing water, a prime breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Experts say the number of cases will rise because the West Nile season is young and does not end until September.

“The mosquitoes will start feeding more because they will start to plan for the winter,” Evans said.”Yes, we’ve had a bad year, but it’s not over yet. “


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