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Challenges in testing for West Nile virus

2:40pm, October 1, 2002

Blood transfusions and organ transplants appear to have infected some people with the West Nile virus, a sometimes lethal germ that can cause fevers, encephalitis, and even polio symptoms (SN: 9/28/02, p. 293: Another Polio? Alarming West Nile fever risks emerge). In response, the Food and Drug Administration is trying to figure out how blood banks can detect signs of West Nile infection in donors and, eventually, test donated blood for the virus itself.

Blood carrying a significant risk of infection will be culled from blood banks, vowed Jesse Goodman, deputy director of the FDA in Rockville, Md., on Sept. 19. However, he noted, no adequate means now exists to screen blood for the virus.

Developing one won't be easy, either. For one thing, blood concentrations of the virus tend to be very low. Although a lab could assay blood for antibodies to the virus, Goodman noted that these may not show up in a person's blood until a few days after the vir

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