A medicine for human victims of the West Nile virus is being studied at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Doctor Alison Freifeld cautions this is not a preventive medication, or a cure for people suffering from the disease. It’s not a vaccine, it’s a treatment, she says — while it can’t prevent West Nile, it’s aimed at treating the most serious forms of the infection in humans. Freifeld says about 80-percent of people infected with West Nile have no symptoms at all. About 20-percent get fever or a flu-like illness that they’ll get over in a couple weeks, and only about one-percent get very serious symptoms that make them extremely sick or even lead to their death. The new treatment is an antibody preparation, made from donated blood of people who live in Israel. “Why Israel?” she says. It turns out the mosquito population in that region has carried the West Nile virus since at least the 1950s, so at least one-third of adults have antibodies to it in their blood. The researchers extract those antibodies from the blood and use them to treat people with the severe neurological symptoms some patients get with West Nile infection. This isn’t a study you’re asked to volunteer for — the treatment will be given to patients who come into hospitals quite sick with confirmed cases of West Nile, and Freifeld says it’ll be a randomized, double-blind study. If you’re one of those patients, you’ll be “randomized”…put into one of three groups to get the Israeli preparation, one made from the blood of American donors, or salt water, a control group — the only way to see if the target treatment really is any better. Freifeld says the treatment isn’t a cure, but doctors hope it decreases the symptoms of the disease and improves the longterm outcome for patients who are sickest. The researcher says the neuro-invasive syndrome caused by several West Nile infection is not very common, so we don’t see many patients with such serious symptoms. That’s part of the reason the study’s expected to take at least two summer “seasons” of the disease outbreak before it’s complete. Freifeld is an infectious-diseases physician who specializes in treating infections in patients who’ve had organ transplants. A 62-year-old Harlan man died in mid-June at the V-A hospital in Omaha after apparently being infected while he worked mowing roadsides along Interstate-29 near Sioux City. Autopsy results last week confirmed his death was linked to the West Nile virus. (news editors: no Iowa center in the study – for list, see http://www.casg.uab.edu/adult/act%20210WNV.htm )