New CDC study reveals WNV has cost the nation $778 million

A recent study conducted by Centers of Disease Control and Prevention researchers found that the West Nile virus has had a national economic impact of $778 million since it first emerged in 1999.

The West Nile virus was first documented in the U.S. in New York and has caused more than 37,000 infections since its emergence in the late 1990s. While the majority of persons suffering from infection may only experience fever-like symptoms, one in 150 can experience severe symptoms, including encephalitis and meningitis, which require hospitalization.

CDC researchers looked at the number of patients hospitalized for WNV and estimated the cost associated to their hospital stay with regard to their symptoms and how much money the patient lost by not being able to work, along with long-term costs of infection, such as follow-up doctor visits and medications. The study is the first of its kind to calculate costs for the specific clinical syndromes of WNV, which include encephalitis, meningitis, acute flaccid paralysis and fever.

"We believe that previous costs associated with West Nile virus disease have been underestimated because they've predominantly focused on the costs of the initial illness," J. Erin Staples, the study's lead author and a medical epidemiologist at CDC in Fort Collins, Colorado, said. "Many hospitalized patients will incur additional medical and indirect costs, and these need to be figured into the burden of WNV disease. Only with accurate figures can public health, academic, and industry officials determine the cost effectiveness of local mosquito control measures or of developing new drugs and vaccines."

President of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Alan J. Magill said the study is important because it offers policy makers concrete statistics upon which they can base decisions.

"Understanding the economic impact of disease is an increasingly important data point for the public health community and policy makers," Magill said. "As we all strive for the most efficient and effective use of scarce resources, studies like this offer decision makers facts that will help them make sound funding and policy decisions."