The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added firepower to its charge against West Nile virus, awarding $6.3 million in new funding today to 25 states, three cities and the District of Columbia for efforts to slow the virus' spread.
Yesterday the CDC said it was aware of four patients with West Nile who had received blood transfusions in the weeks before their diagnosis, increasing concerns that the virus can be spread through the nation's blood supply. CDC investigators have confirmed that the virus can be transmitted through organ transplants.
The new funding is in addition to $11.3 million awarded to states and cities in August and brings total CDC funding for efforts against West Nile to approximately $35 million so far this year. Since 2000, more than $58 million in federal money has been directed to state and local health departments to develop or enhance epidemiological and laboratory capacity to address West Nile and other viruses, the CDC said.
West Nile infections have been reported in 43 states and the District of Columbia. The CDC said it was aware of 1,201 cases of human infection and 46 deaths as of Sept. 11.
The CDC said an investigation had confirmed transmission of the virus from a single organ donor to four organ recipients. The agency continues to investigate whether blood transfusions could have been the source of the organ donor's infection.
Meanwhile, in the case of the four patients who had received blood transfusions before diagnosis, initial tests suggest that the blood donors might have been infected with West Nile at the time of their donations. Officials stressed that the test results are preliminary. Investigators are trying to contact the donors and other recipients of their donated blood.
A large number of West Nile infections result from mosquito bites, and some people with the virus would by chance alone have had a recent blood transfusion, the CDC said.
Adding to the frenzy over the spreading virus, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has called on the federal government to investigate whether terrorism could be behind the outbreak. Leahy was the target of anthrax-laced mail last year.
"I think we have to ask ourselves: Is it coincidence that we're seeing such an increase in West Nile virus or is that something that's being tested as a biological weapon against us?" Leahy reportedly said yesterday during a radio talk show broadcast in Vermont. Later in a written statement issued by his office, Leahy said he could point to no specific evidence of a link to terrorism.