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West Nile virus has cost U.S. almost $800 million, study says


By Steven Ross Johnson
Posted: February 11, 2014 - 4:30 pm ET
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Hospitalizations due to the West Nile virus have cost the U.S. nearly $800 million in medical expenditures and lost productivity, a higher figure than previous estimates, according to a new study.

The cumulative cost for treatment, from 1999 when West Nile was first detected in the U.S. to 2012, was estimated at $778 million, which includes the cost of the initial hospitalization and up to five years of follow-up care. The analysis was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published online Monday in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. The total is a higher figure than previous estimates because it includes expenses associated with long-term care of the disease.

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“Many hospitalized patients will incur additional medical and indirect costs, and these need to be figured into the burden of WNV disease,” study lead author Dr. J. Erin Staples, a CDC epidemiologist, said in a written release. “Only with accurate figures can public health, academic and industry officials determine the cost effectiveness of local mosquito control measures or of developing new drugs and vaccines.”

Roughly 37,000 cases of West Nile virus have been reported to the CDC between 1999 and 2012, resulting in more than 18,000 hospitalizations and 1,500 deaths, according to the study.

While about 80% of those infected with West Nile end up developing no symptoms, about one in five develop fever and other symptoms that include headache and joint pains. About one in 150 of those infected develop more severe complications, such as encephalitis, meningitis or paralysis, usually requiring hospitalization. Researchers studied 80 West Nile cases during a five-year period after a 2003 disease outbreak in Colorado.

They found that short- and long-term costs depended on the type of complications that developed. Patients with paralysis had the largest initial and long-term medical expenses, at an average cost of $25,000. Patients with meningitis typically had shorter hospital stays and had an average care cost of $7,500.

West Nile virus, passed to humans through infected mosquitoes, was first detected in New York City and spread across the entire country in less than five years. Prevention remains the only protection from the disease. No vaccine is available, according to the CDC.

Follow Steven Ross Johnson on Twitter: @MHSjohnson


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