September 5th, 2008

West Nile Virus and Friday Night Lights

The town of Braintree, just south of Boston, has cancelled Friday night high school football games until the first frost of the year due to concerns about West Nile.  Apparently the campus has a lake and wetlands,  good breeding grounds for mosquitoes.  “This is all in the name of safety,” says the school headmaster.

(If someone were doing a presentation on “How Massachusetts Differs from Texas”, this move is Exhibit 1.)

When West Nile encephalitis first appeared in Boston in the Summer of 2000, there were newspaper articles about how parents would rush their children from house to car on summer evenings to avoid mosquito bites; lots of debate over the relative safety of various chemical repellents; people scrutinized their neighbors’ yards for suspicious bird baths or, worse, old tires with stagnant water.

This all seemed to me a variant on a commonly-observed inability for us humans to figure out relative risk.  Which was more dangerous, a few mosquito bites on a summer evening, or the drive in the car?  We fear what we can’t control — especially creepy microbes, bugs, germs, yuck — and if anything can be done to reduce this risk further, even if it’s from a 1 in a million to a 1 in 10 million chance, let’s do it.  (See rabies prevention, for another example.)

By contrast, we have the illusion of control over things like car safety, when in fact most car accidents happen suddenly —  no warning –- and we have no control at all over the driver trying to find his sunglasses while talking on the cellphone after having a few too many. People are more concerned with feeling safe than being safe — just try to convince the driver of a large SUV otherwise.

This is not to diminish the potential seriousness of West Nile disease — a colleague of mine’s father died of it in California several years ago — but the reality is that so far this year in Massachusetts there have been zero human cases; last year there were 6 (3 encephalitis, 3 fever).  Less than 1% of people who become infected with West Nile virus will develop severe illness.  Most people who get infected with West Nile do not develop any disease at all, and the elderly — not high school football players — are at the greatest risk for encephalitis.

As a 140-pounder when wet, I can think of lots of good safety reasons reasons not to play high school tackle football on Friday nights — but the risk of West Nile isn’t one of them.

3 Responses to “West Nile Virus and Friday Night Lights”

  1. David Moskowitz MD FACP says:

    GenoMed, a genomics-based Disease Management company in St. Louis, has had encouraging results treating West Nile virus encephalitis since 2003.

    We’ve had about 80% treatment success rate in people (23 of 29 improved) and horses (8 of 10 survived), and 50% in birds (6 of 12 survived). Our first 8 human WNV patients were published in a peer-reviewed medical journal in 2004 (1). This is sufficient for our treatment to officially exist in both the medical and legal senses.

    The earlier our treatment is begun, the better the outcome.

    Anybody who wants to download our WNV trial protocol can do so for free at any time by clicking on the “West Nile trial” link on our company’s homepage at

    Dave Moskowitz MD
    CEO & Chief Medical Officer
    GenoMed, Inc. (Ticker symbol GMED on OTC Pink Sheets)
    “The public health company™”

    1. Moskowitz DW, Johnson FE. The central role of angiotensin I-converting enzyme in vertebrate pathophysiology. Curr Top Med Chem. 2004;4(13):1433-54. PMID: 15379656 (For PDF file, click on paper #6 at:

  2. says:

    Has anyone heard of Deep Woods OFF.
    Bounce Dryer sheets and
    eliminating Bananas from your diet a few days before the game.
    They all work.
    Do to all the stagnant swimming pools in the foreclosed homes in California. California has found a little fish that eats the Mesquitoes Larva.
    Wouldn’t it be better to fight the problem now so the problem wouldn’t be compounded in the future.

  3. stephanyard says:

    West nile virus has been a cause of major concern through out the world especially during the warm-weather months of spring and summer season. As there is no vaccine for West Nile encephalitis, you must be aware of the necessary precautionary measures that should be adopted to prevent infection. The only way to protect you from west nile virus is preventing yourself from being bitten by an infected mosquito by reducing the number of mosquitoes around your surroundings or by protecting yourself with a natural mosquito repellant. Visit for know about natural mosquito repellent.

HIV Information: Author Paul Sax, M.D.

Paul E. Sax, MD

Contributing Editor

NEJM Journal Watch
Infectious Diseases

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