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West Nile Virus

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Basic Research

Complex interactions between the virus, birds and other animals, mosquitoes, and the environment have influenced the pattern of West Nile Virus (WNV) emergence and distribution across the United States. The specific factors contributing to the emergence of WNV, however, are poorly understood. Knowledge of these principles is essential in planning strategies to prevent, treat, and control this disease. The goal of NIAID basic research on WNV is to develop a knowledge base to enable researchers to develop medical countermeasures against WNV.

NIAID supports basic research at universities and other institutions to better understand the infection in animals and humans, the virus itself, and the environmental factors that influence disease emergence. For example, researchers are conducting research to

  • Determine how the virus replicates and spreads throughout the body in order to develop vaccines and drugs to prevent and treat disease
  • Determine which viral proteins contribute to the virus' ability to cause disease
  • Investigate how the immune system responds in the most serious form of the disease, West Nile encephalitis
  • Examine the ecology and year-to-year maintenance of mosquito-borne encephalitis viruses and how genetic variation affects the spread and virulence of the virus
  • Study whether migrating bird populations carry the virus to points in Central and South America

The emergence of WNV in Central and South America, which harbor abundant mosquito populations, could set up conditions for a potentially severe epidemic.

Researchers also are working to better understand the insects and ticks that transmit other flaviviruses. Such an understanding will allow improved monitoring and surveillance, and enable the development and preliminary testing of strategies to control carriers of the virus.

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Last Updated March 27, 2008