Victim died of 'West Nile-like' virus, CDC says

Monday, September 27th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) -- A strain of encephalitis never before reported
in the United States is to blame for at least one of three deaths
in the city, federal health officials said.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Protection
identified a "West Nile-like" virus in the victim on Friday and
were continuing to determine the specific strain, CDC spokeswoman
Barbara Reynolds said.

"We're using the word 'like' to indicate that we still have
some more work to do to determine if it is a variation on the
strain of West Nile or a new virus," she said.

Health officials said last week that a virus believed to be West
Nile had been found in dead birds in the metropolitan region.
Reynolds said the West Nile virus is usually found in Africa and
Europe, never before in the United States.

Scientists earlier thought St. Louis encephalitis killed three
and sickened 15 other people in the city and neighboring
Westchester County.

It's possible the numbers could go higher. Spinal fluid samples
from 77 people who fell ill but tested negative for St. Louis
encephalitis would be re-examined for the West Nile or Kunjin
virus, city Health Commissioner Dr. Neal Cohen told The New York
Times. Seven of those 77 people died.

Officials said the unprecedented discovery of the virus in the
United States was no cause for alarm, since the pesticide spraying
now under way to combat St. Louis encephalitis should also work
against the mosquitoes that carry the West Nile virus.

Brain tissue from victims of the encephalitis outbreak has been
undergoing analysis at the CDC and at the Emerging Diseases
Laboratory at the University of California at Irvine.

W. Ian Lipkin, the director of the Irvine lab, said his
colleagues had identified either West Nile virus or a variant found
in Australia, Kunjin virus, in the brains of three encephalitis
victims from the city's Queens borough.

"The significance of this is that this particular agent has
never been reported in North America," Lipkin said Sunday.