In response to outbreaks of West Nile virus throughout the eastern U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has pointed out that the best way to avoid infection is to avoid mosquito bites. West Nile virus is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito, and in addition to humans can infect horses, many species of birds, and some other animals. Fortunately, most people who become infected with West Nile virus will have either no symptoms or mild ones. But on rare occasions, infection can result in West Nile encephalitis, a severe and sometimes fatal inflammation of the brain. (The risk of severe infection is higher for persons 50 years of age and older.) Officials in Washington D.C. have been getting the word out about protective measures people can take after West Nile virus infected a 55-year-old resident, who is now hospitalized with encephalitis. As of Thursday, state health departments around the U.S. have released information on 113 cases of human illness related to West Nile virus this year, including 5 deaths.
Vaccinating hundreds of thousands of Americans would be more effective in the case of an intentional or accidental outbreak of smallpox than a more limited “ring” plan endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some specialists believe. “Mass vaccination really leads to fewer deaths than the CDC interim plan,” Lawrence Wein of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told Reuters. Besides, he said, if there were a smallpox attack, “I think it highly likely that people would take to the streets to demand vaccination, or would flee.” Of course, the smallpox vaccine could be fatal or severely debilitating for many people, including those with common skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.