Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy has urged the government to explore a possibile terrorist link to an outbreak of West Nile virus that has killed 54 people this year. “I think we have to ask ourselves: Is it coincidence that we’re seeing such an increase in West Nile virus or is that something that’s being tested as a biological weapon against us?” said Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. Leahy’s office was one of several to receive anthrax-laden envelopes last year, the Associated Press reports. Leahy said he could point to no specific evidence that the outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus was linked to terrorism, and a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there is no evidence to suggest an act of bioterrorism. Nearly 1,300 people in the U.S. have so far contracted West Nile. “In the times in which we live, questions about our vulnerabilities are unavoidable,” the Vermont senator said in a written statement. “Finding all the answers we can is more important than ever.”
A Los Angeles County woman has tested positive for West Nile virus in what is likely to be the first case of a person contracting the illness west of the Rockies, state health officials said today. Today’s preliminary results are expected to be confirmed by further tests next week. The unidentified woman, who is being treated for meningitis, had not traveled outside the region, which would indicate that the infection, if confirmed, occurred locally. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 43 people have died so far this year from the disease, which is spread by mosquitos (or possibly through organ transplants).
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.