Right now in the United States there are ten thousand people living with memory deficits as a result of past West Nile infections. Deficits in memory are not the only cognitive deficits that many past victims still experience. Medical experts have long wondered why cognitive functioning remained hindered in past victims of West Nile. As far as experts understood, the victims should have eventually retained normal cognitive functioning after the victims were deemed free of the disease. However, much to everyone’s surprise, this has not been the case. Fortunately, new research in mice is revealing that persistent cognitive issues caused by West Nile infection could result from continued brain inflammation. This is exciting news for doctors and victims as this inflammation can be reduced with modern medical treatments.
Research with West Nile-infected mice has shown that a common drug used to treat arthritis can reduce brain inflammation caused by the disease. This inflammation does not disappear in victims of the West Nile virus. Brain inflammation caused by West Nile can last a lifetime, and may never improve without medical intervention. The lasting cognitive deficits associated with West Nile infection have long puzzled doctors. Now it is clear that persistent inflammation that first occurred with the disease’s onset is responsible for these lasting symptoms. This prolonged inflammation prevents natural repair processes, which in turn, prevent the growth of cells in parts of the brain that have been damaged by the disease and are essential for cognitive function, mostly memory.
These persistent memory problems have made it difficult for past West Nile sufferers to live normal day-to-day lives. Driving a car, cooking, and holding down a job have all been challenging for these victims. According to a professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Robyn Klein, if inflamed areas of the brain are targeted by a basic arthritis drug, memory problems can be treated in past victims, and future victims can be spared these cognitive symptoms. However, brain damage caused by the West Nile virus only gets worse over time, so long time sufferers may not benefit from the new treatment as much as patients who have recently contracted the virus.
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