- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 28, 2002


Scientists have found genetic signs of West Nile virus in the breast milk of a new mother battling the infection.

Her baby is healthy and there's no evidence yet that West Nile virus could be transmitted by breast-feeding, federal health officials stressed yesterday but they are investigating that possibility.

Breast milk is considered the healthiest food for babies and federal scientists stressed that mothers should not quit nursing because of fear about this year's West Nile outbreak.

But a new mother who has a confirmed diagnosis of West Nile virus should discuss with her doctor whether to continue breast-feeding or quit at least temporarily, said Dr. Lyle Petersen of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The 40-year-old Michigan mother gave birth on Sept. 2, and received a blood transfusion. She had a fever before being sent home with her new baby on Sept. 4 only to be rehospitalized on Sept. 17 for three days while suffering what doctors have confirmed was West Nile virus.

It's not clear how she became infected but it may have been from the blood, the CDC said. She and another patient received blood from a common donor. , and remaining blood samples from that donor show signs of contamination.

The government discovered this month that West Nile virus apparently can be spread through blood transfusions but considers the risk low.

The mother has recovered and her infant never was sick.

She breast-fed her baby for two weeks, but her personal physician advised quitting when she was hospitalized. A sample of her breast milk shows traces of West Nile genetic material, the CDC announced yesterday but that's not proof the baby was exposed to the virus, Dr. Petersen said.

Doctors took a sample of the baby's blood yesterday to check for antibodies to West Nile virus that would show whether the infant was exposed after birth, said Michigan state epidemiologist Dr. Matthew Boulton. Results are due next week.

The CDC also is testing breast milk the mother continued to pump for the presence of actual virus.

Dr. Boulton said the woman will decide whether to resume breast-feeding after test results are back.

There have never been signs, here or from other countries where West Nile is rampant, that West Nile virus could be spread through breast-feeding. Currently, doctors recommend against breast-feeding only for mothers who have the AIDS virus or another infection called HTLV-1.

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