USM, hospitals form network to study West Nile virus

mosquito_65147_7HATTIESBURG and JACKSON — The mosquito-transmitted West Nile virus has been on the upswing nationwide over the past several years. It is estimated that the virus has killed more than 1,500 people and infected more than 50,000 Americans in the last 15 years.

Now, researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi have joined forces with physicians at Methodist Rehab Center and University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson on a project that unites lab-conducted research with health care providers who work with patients on a daily basis. Through the newly formed West Nile Virus Research Network, researchers and health care professional strive to better understand the link between certain mosquitoes and the deadly virus.

The connection between the mosquito and West Nile virus is widely documented and cases of the virus have been reported in every U.S. state. But researchers still aren’t exactly sure howthe virus causes brain and spinal cord infections in humans and animals.

 Dr. Fengwei Bai, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Southern Miss, is leading a research team to study the mechanics of West Nile virus as it relates to animals and working hard to develop a proven treatment for the virus. The ultimate objective is to develop a proven vaccine.

“My goal is to work on the animal model here at the lab at USM and have the animal research facility, so we handle real viruses for research,” said Bai.

Bai is widely known as one of the nation’s leading West Nile virus researchers. His expertise in the field helped lead to the formation of the West Nile Virus Research Network — the first of its kind in the U.S., according to Southern Miss.

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