Monday, July 7, 2008

117 deaths from West Nile Virus

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) just announced that there were 117 deaths in the United States from the mosquito borne virus known as West Nile Virus. Out of an estimated 175,000 who were infected by this virus, 35,000 came down with West Nile fever, 1,227 developed West Nile encephalitis, 63 were paralyzed, and 117 died. The disease incidence was highest in the states where the Rocky Mountains begin - Colorado, Wyoming, and Idaho. While this is an epidemic which bears watching, let's make a few observations.

1. The emergence of this virus in the US population is fairly early and we have not developed strong "herd" immunity as yet. While there is an animal reservoir for West Nile strong immunity in the human population can result in a decreasing rate of infection over time.

2. Vaccines for West Nile are being developed.

3. Bad as this virus is, it is not a huge public health threat - yet.

4. We can avoid being infected by avoiding the mosquitos that carry the disease.

Finally, let's compare West Nile to another mosquito borne illness - Malaria. Each year the plasmodia species which cause Malaria infect an estimated 500 million people - approximately 2 million die of the infection each year, most of them children.

Conducting research is important to limit the spread of both of these diseases, but I would argue for a proportionate response. As Christians it is our moral responsibility to carefully argue for more research funding to be directed toward diseases like Malaria. Not only because they affect more people, but because the people affected are precisely the ones Jesus said we should help - the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. I am not saying we should fund one type of research exclusively, we should simply work to ensure that our national and investment priorities are informed by the correct rationale.


Keith Drury said...

I'll conduct some research by exposing myself to nine million mosquitoes next week in the Wind River Mtns ;-)

Looking forward to how many gallons of milk it takes to ride my bike)

::athada:: said...

I think the Gates Foundation is trying to address this funding gap - from an ethical perspective, the world's best scientists (in the largest numbers) should be working on the world's most pressing and obvious points of pain: malaria, AIDS, and indoor air pollution. When the market drives research, you get a lot of money put into hair loss meds.

Which puts us in a position to help correct these market failures.