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ICEID: West Nile Virus Causes Long-Term Complications

Five years after infection, nearly half of patients still have persistent neurological symptoms

WEDNESDAY, March 19 (HealthDay News) -- West Nile virus infection can cause long-term symptoms, especially in patients who present with encephalitis, according to research presented this week at the 2008 International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases in Atlanta.

After West Nile virus appeared in Texas in 2002, Kristy Murray, Ph.D., of the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, and colleagues studied 108 patients, including 54 (50 percent) who presented with encephalitis, 32 (30 percent) who presented with meningitis, and 22 (20 percent) who presented with uncomplicated fever. They evaluated the patients every six months and followed them for up to five years.

After one year, the researchers found that 60.1 percent of patients had persistent symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, depression, personality changes, difficulty walking and memory deficits, a rate that declined to 41.9 percent after five years. They also found that patients who presented with encephalitis were especially likely to suffer from numerous neurological abnormalities, particularly muscle weakness and gait impairment.

"This study provides us with a better understanding of the clinical aspects of a virus that is likely to continue to be an important global emerging pathogen," the authors conclude.

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