Catching the West Nile Virus is not something most people want to do. But Prof. Ella Mendelson of Tel Aviv University’s School of Public Health at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, is trying to do just that. She’s trying to catch the virus in action.
Working with the Israeli Ministries of Health and Environment, Prof. Mendelson has instituted a study that tracks both clinical cases of West Nile Virus and populations of infected mosquitoes.
By examining the outbreaks and testing samples of the mosquito populations from high-risk areas (such as those near large bodies of water), her method can identify “danger zones” and produce timely warnings of impending outbreaks.
“It’s important to ensure that local authorities take preventative anti-mosquito measures where they can,” says Prof. Mendelson.
Since 1999, several outbreaks of West Nile Virus — which causes fever or severe neurological symptoms and is transmitted from birds to humans by blood-sucking mosquitoes — have been seen in the U.S., usually during the summer months. But researchers don’t know how the virus migrates or where it will appear next.
Prof. Mendelson hopes to answer that by providing more information on the dynamics and mobility of the virus. Her research was recently published in the journal, Eurosurveillance.
The virus was first recorded in the 1930s and is believed to have originated in Egypt. Now it is spreading across the globe to non-traditional climates such as Western Europe and North America, says Prof. Mendelson.
She and her fellow researchers at the Central Virology Laboratory are geographically tracking the virus, recording where it originates, the genetic types of the virus that are circulated, and the dynamics of infection. They analyze both the occurrences of outbreaks among the human population, as well as the virus’ appearance in the mosquito population.
Until the virus is beaten, Prof. Mendelson says that precaution is highly important: wear long sleeves and bug spray during the evening hours when mosquitoes are most active.