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New York, New York, USA (West Nile Virus)

Michael Turrell, U.S. Army Medical Research Institute

No one knows how it got here, though personally, I believe it arrived here in an infected mosquito hitching a ride in an airplane. If we want to be able to have the freedom to travel around the world, this is one of the side effects.

The West Nile really has served as a wake-up call. The introduction into the United States, a virus which has never been here before, illustrates the possibility for other pathogens, other viruses and bacteria, to come into the United States.

Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute

There are 1.1 billion people worldwide that don't have access to basic clean drinking water, and 2 1/2 billion people worldwide that don't have access to the sanitation services that...that we take for granted. And the direct implication of this failure to provide basic human needs for water are water-related diseases.

Public Health | West Nile Virus

During the summer of 1999 New York City became a hot zone for a rare and deadly virus. A mosquito borne disease from a remote part of Africa crossed the Atlantic and forged a foothold in America. In early August thousands of crows started dropping out of the sky. Three weeks later an 80-year old women died of encephalitis. Within weeks another 56 cases were reported — seven people died. Health officials were puzzled — then alarmed.

Scientist studies bird

Scientist studies bird

Attention quickly shifted to high security laboratories that study toxic diseases like Anthrax and Ebola. Scientists started dissecting dead birds looking for clues that could confirm their suspicion that the virus that affected birds was also lethal to humans. Eventually the disease was isolated. It was something never before found in the Western Hemisphere — West Nile Virus.

West Nile thrives in the neat back yards and gardens of suburbia and it prays on the weak and the elderly.

Today, phone banks across the nation receive reports of dead birds. Since its entry into New York, West Nile Virus has become a public health threat to an entire continent — thousands of people have already been infected. During the summer months, when mosquitoes are most active, the calls never seem to stop. When birds start dying — there's a good chance West Nile is not far behind.

West Nile Virus phone bank

West Nile Virus phone bank

It's also an early warning signal to initiate mosquito control measures, like the selective spraying of pesticides. West Nile thrives in the neat back yards and gardens of suburbia and it prays on the weak and the elderly.

In wealthy countries like the United States, resources are available to fight mosquito borne outbreaks. For now, most public health officials don't expect West Nile to become a greater threat.

Health authorities believe that West Nile could be a harbinger of things to come since it re-enforces the fact that disease knows no borders. Yet there is a global health issue even greater than insect-borne diseases looming for the 21st century. It revolves around the most basic human need: clean water.

The affects of water borne diseases are devastating. In the poorest regions of the world diarrhea alone claims the lives of nearly three million children each year. As people flood into cities, the problems of sanitation, clean water and the spread of water born diseases become even more urgent, even in the most prosperous nation in earth.



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