November 2002 MedBytes: West Nile Virus

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Mosquitoes are tiny but they pack a wallop, as the recent outbreaks of West Nile virus have proven. The virus has captured considerable attention from the news media and the public, and one senator has even suggested that the sudden increase in deaths and illnesses across the country since the summer might even be part of a bioterrorism attack.

Predictably, the Internet is brimming with sites related to the virus. Most of them are maintained by state and federal health authorities and much of the information is repetitive, but here are a few worth visiting if you and your patients need information.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The CDC site at www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/index.htm offers tips you can pass on to patients on how to avoid being infected. It also gives general information on who is at risk, symptoms to look for, the safe use of repellent, and reporting dead birds -- a sign of the virus -- to health authorities. For health care professionals, the site has statistics and surveillance information, clinical and laboratory guidance, and sources for education and training. Guidelines for surveillance, prevention, and control are available in a PDF format. Finally, there are links to various federal agencies, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health, Agriculture Department, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS)
For more Texas-specific information, log on to the TDSHS site at http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/idcu/disease/arboviral/westNile/. There you will find daily updated numbers on West Nile virus cases in Texas this year; fact sheets (in a PDF format) for physicians, schools, and veterinarians; a list of frequently asked questions; the health department's response plan and instructions for identifying and reporting dead birds; West Nile Virus and arboviral encephalitis specimen requirements; a list of where the virus has been found in the state; and maps detailing the geographical distribution of West Nile virus in Texas and the United States. Also available are EPA fact sheets on mosquito control and N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET), the active ingredient in many insect repellent products, and telephone numbers of health department contacts throughout the state.

National Library of Medicine
The library's MEDLINEplus site at www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/westnilevirus.html has the latest National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases research on the virus, information on diagnosis and symptoms, and advice on outdoor activities during mosquito season.

Fort Dodge Animal Health
This is Texas after all, so you or your patients may own horses and want to protect them. Fort Dodge Animal Health, a division of Wyeth, has manufactured prescription and over-the-counter animal health care products since 1912. It maintains a Web site at http://www.vetdepot.com/store/Search.aspx?SearchTerms=Equine%20West%20Nile. Besides the usual basic data on West Nile virus and where it has cropped up, the site has information on the vaccine the company produces and links to West Nile virus information sources at Penn State and Cornell universities. And there are some nice photos of horses, too.

On the TMA Web Site
Two major sources of aggravation for physicians are liability and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). TMA's Web site has plenty of information on both. Click on  Health Care Lawsuit Reform Resources  and you'll find, among other things, a detailed examination of the crisis and TMA's proposals for fixing the system that will be presented to the next session of the legislature. As for HIPAA, includes advice and resources; a monthly column in which TMA's Office of General Counsel discusses practical steps on how to begin complying with HIPAA regulations; an action plan that details policies, procedures, and tasks that must be implemented to be HIPAA compliant; and links to relevant government agencies and their HIPAA resources. There also is a home study course, "HIPAA: Taking the Bull by the Horns," which focuses on what practices must do to meet the April 14, 2003, compliance date for HIPAA's privacy rule. You can earn three hours of continuing medical education credit, and Texas Medical Liability Trust policyholders are eligible to receive a discount on their professional liability insurance by completing the course.

MedBytes is a quick look at new, or newly discovered, Web sites of interest to Texas physicians. The column also highlights features of the TMA Web site at www.texmed.org. Publication of information about Web sites in this column is not to be considered an endorsement or approval by the Texas Medical Association of the sites or sponsors, or of any products or services involved.

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