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NIH awards UTHealth professor $1.5 million to study long-term health effects of West Nile Virus

Kristy Murray, D.V.M., Ph.D.

Kristy Murray, D.V.M., Ph.D.

HOUSTON - (August 31, 2011) – Kristy Murray, D.V.M., Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology at The University of Texas School of Public Health, has been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the effects of chronic West Nile Virus (WNV) infection on the kidneys and central nervous system.

“We have found that most people who were severely affected by West Nile virus are having long-term health problems,” said Murray, who has been studying the virus at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), which includes the School of Public Health. “Our previous research revealed that some individuals still have evidence of virus in the kidneys years after their initial infection. Therefore, this grant will be critical for understanding the virus’ effect on the renal tissue.”  

Grant funds will support a four-year study to further investigate the long-term effects and disabilities caused by the virus. Murray has been following more than 200 patients in the Houston area since 2002.

Murray will also investigate whether or not the virus causes a persistent infection in the brain or spinal cord. “The virus has shown signs of affecting the central nervous system since many patients have problems with balance and muscle weakness,” she said. “Animal studies show that the virus can persist in the central nervous system, but there has been no research to date on humans.”

More than 25,000 WNV cases have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since the virus was first identified in New York City in 1999. One in 150 people infected with the virus will develop more serious illness with severe symptoms including high fever, headache, paralysis and vision loss.

West Nile Virus is most often passed from mosquitoes that have fed on infected birds and then bite humans and animals, passing the virus to them. According to the CDC, symptoms of the virus show up within three to 14 days of being infected.  

Murray, a former CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer, has been researching WNV since the original outbreak in New York City in 1999.

Jade Waddy
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