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HEALTH REPORT - July 23, 2003: New Test for West Nile Virus - 2003-07-22

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

A medical company in Australia, PanBio, has developed a new test for West Nile virus. The test examines blood for what are called IgM antibodies. These are commonly found within the first few days of infection. Health officials say a second laboratory test is needed to confirm the results should the antibodies be discovered. Antibodies are proteins that the body produces to fight infection.

Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration in Washington approved the test for use in the United States. The agency based its decision on a study of one-thousand patients. Researchers found that the PanBio test correctly identified IgM antibodies in up to ninety-nine percent of patients.

Similar studies are also being done in Canada. The government there is expected to approve the test in the coming weeks. Carl Stubbings is senior vice president of PanBio's offices in the United States. He says the company has also organized a study at a hospital in Israel. And, he says future research is possible in France and Germany.

West Nile virus started in Uganda in nineteen-thirty-seven. Populations in northern Africa have since developed resistance to the infection. However, this is not the case in North America and other parts of the world.

The first cases of West Nile virus appeared in the United States in nineteen-ninety-nine. Last year more than four-thousand cases were reported in the country. More than two-hundred-eighty people died. Mexico, southern Europe and Canada are also dealing with the virus. And it has become a concern in Central America.

West Nile virus spreads to humans through mosquito bites. The insects become infected when they feed on birds or other animals that carry the disease. Most people do not get sick from the virus. But children and adults over the age of fifty may develop serious problems. Signs of West Nile virus include head and body pain and fever. Severe cases can lead to coma or death.

PanBio's new test for the disease takes about two hours. This is a huge reduction in the amount of time needed to identify an infected patient. Currently, tests for the disease usually take about two days to administer. Results can take up to two weeks.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Jill Moss.