Fatal West Nile Infection Likely Caused by Blood Transfusion

By Gillian Mohney

Aug 9, 2013 7:10am
GTY mosquito west nile virus jef 130726 16x9 608 Fatal West Nile Infection Likely Caused by Blood Transfusion

The West Nile virus is transmitted by mosquitoes. (Image Credit: Getty Images)

A Colorado man who died of West Nile disease in 2012 likely contracted it from a blood transfusion, according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

In a report the CDC stated that the unnamed Colorado man had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a cancer of the lymph nodes — when he contracted the disease.

Although he was in partial remission, the patient was admitted to an unnamed hospital for chemotherapy and stem cell treatment. During these treatments, he was also given a blood transfusion.

After receiving blood products, the patient started to exhibit symptoms of the West Nile virus, including fever, hypertension and gastrointestinal problems.

During the next few weeks, the man’s health continued to deteriorate, resulting in respiratory failure that necessitated he be put on a respirator. Eventually, the patient died after 47 days in the hospital. A postmortem investigation determined that the patient had West Nile-encephalitis. Blood used in an earlier transfusion was found to be infected with the West Nile virus.

Recognizing the West Nile Virus 

Although the U.S. blood supply has been screened for West Nile disease since 2003, there have been 12 previous cases in which the West Nile virus was contracted through a blood transfusion. Primarily the disease is spread through mosquitoes, but can also be transmitted through organ donation or blood transfusions.

During the last decade approximately 3,500 units of blood were removed from the blood supply after testing positive for West Nile virus.

There is no cure for the disease with doctors only able to treat the symptoms, however most patients recover within weeks or months. Only one out of five people exposed to West Nile virus develop symptoms such as gastroinstinal distress, body aches and fever.

Less than 1 percent of patients develop neurological symptoms that can result in deadly brain swelling and permanent damage. People over age 60 and those living with  cancer, diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease are also at greater risk for developing dangerous symptoms of the virus.

The CDC is warning medical professionals to check for the disease in any patient exhibiting West Nile virus symptoms within 28 days of receiving a blood transfusion. In 2012 the CDC reported that there were 5,674 cases of the West Nile virus in the U.S. with 286 fatalities.

West Nile Virus: Fighting to Contain a Deadly Disease 

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