- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2002

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first national trial of a drug to treat West Nile virus, which is quickly spreading west and has infected more than 250 people in a dozen states.
The agency cleared the way Monday for James Rahal of the New York Hospital Queens to see whether interferon can lessen the symptoms and duration of the illness in infected patients. Transmitted to humans by mosquito bites, the West Nile virus can cause fever, body aches, brain swelling, coma, paralysis or death.
Mr. Rahal said the trial studies 40 hospitalized persons, aged 50 and above, chosen at random. Younger patients would be enrolled only if diagnosed with encephalitis, or swelling of the brain. Outpatients are not eligible.
In a trial with randomized and controlled groups of subjects, the former will receive the drug and the latter will receive basic care without it. Patients must agree in advance to allow that decision to be made for them.
Sold by Schering-Plough Corp. as Intron A, the drug is a hepatitis treatment that has been shown by lab tests to be effective against the virus.
West Nile first appeared in the United States in 1999, when seven persons infected with it in New York died. Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 12 deaths this year from the virus, eight of them in Louisiana. As of Tuesday, 253 human cases of West Nile infection had been reported to the CDC this year in 11 states and the District.
It first appeared this year on the East Coast but quickly spread west. This week, officials in Missouri, Kentucky and Texas said they were investigating three deaths suspected of being caused by the virus.
Mr. Rahal used Intron A in Monroe, La., during a St. Louis encephalitis outbreak last year that killed four and led to the hospitalization of 62 persons.
Dr. Lowery Thompson, a neurologist at Glenwood Regional Medical Center in Monroe, knew Mr. Rahal had used the drug during the 1999 outbreak in New York. He sought Mr. Rahal's help. After that, every patient diagnosed with encephalitis was given the choice of using the drug or not taking it.
Mr. Rahal said last year that he hadn't been able to get enough patients in New York and that the Monroe outbreak was the first real test for the drug.
Because Mr. Rahal was trying to get the work published, neither he nor the doctors in northeast Louisiana would give any details about his results.

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