The recent outbreak of the West Nile Virus in Massachusetts is a sober reminder that the public’s perception of infectious disease remains relatively high compared to other sources. Although this virus has not yet reached pandemic proportions, it is likely to spread rapidly throughout the United States and abroad because of the widespread awareness of its threat. Only a fraction of the general population is aware that the Massachusetts outbreak demonstrates the ability of the virus to transverse large distances, become airborne and gain access to more susceptible individuals. As more information becomes available about this virus, both the public and health officials will be able to better understand its specific genetic structure and adaptability and work to create vaccines to fight it.
The virus’ ability to withstand cold temperatures makes it one of the few viruses that has the ability to survive in an atmosphere where temperatures are low. Unlike most strains, the Massachusetts strain is unable to survive in temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. However, it is possible for the virus to adapt to these lower temperature settings if the strain’s adaptability is artificially increased. Because of this finding, scientists are developing better treatments for various strains to deal with each new outbreak more effectively. However, if the virus were to adapt, scientists would need to find a way to induce the mutation without directly killing or hurting any living cell.
While some scientists believe that the recent outbreak was caused by a manmade strain of the virus, others suspect that the bacteria was accidentally airborne. It is difficult to predict how viruses will react in areas that haven’t been exposed to a particular strain in the past. Researchers have recently developed vaccines to boost immunity to combat disease, but those cannot help protect the body from airborne pathogens like the Massachusetts strain. Therefore, although the virus was transmitted via the respiratory route, the transmissibility of the virus may be higher because it was able to enter through the air.
Researchers have not conclusively determined whether the Massachusetts outbreak was caused by a type 1 nor type 2 strain of the virus. They have not conclusively determined whether or not the virus was airborne. It is important to note that there are many different strains and not all strains are airborne. Therefore, determining whether or not the virus was airborne or transferred via the respiratory route is impossible.
The Harvard School of Public Health has stated that more studies and research are needed to better understand the causes and mechanics of the Massachusetts outbreak. They have also stated that they will look into how other strains of the virus have transferred between generations. Although the precise cause of this epidemic is unknown, researchers do believe that factors that increase the likelihood of an outbreak, like environmental variables and genetics, are widespread among strains of the virus.
The Harvard School of Public Health has acknowledged that the only way to prevent an outbreak from spreading is to stop the transmission process. They advise individuals to wash hands frequently and to avoid sharing personal items, like towels, razors and straws. They also recommend that children under the age of five should be closely monitored for their exposure to the virus. Finally, they recommend that pregnant women avoid kissing anyone or any surface that they have never touched.