A genetic mutation may be the reason why only one-fifth of the people who are infected with West Nile virus go on to develop symptoms, and only one-fifth of this group develop a severe, and often fatal, brain inflammation. A team at the Institut Pasteur in Paris studied mice infected with the virus and found that all those that died quickly had a mutation in a gene that encodes a set of enzymes that destroy viruses in infected cells. The gene is common to all vertebrates, and the human version is very similar to that found in mice.

“Researchers should now hunt for the mutated gene in humans. Perhaps it will lead to better understanding of how we can detect those most at risk from flavivruses and find ways to protect them,? says Jean-Louis Guenet. ?Understanding the genetic determinants that affect West Nile virus susceptibility and resistance is of utmost importance.? Since the disease originated in Africa, people there may be less susceptible to the disease than North Americans. In the same way, it?s been found that Africans are genetically much more susceptible to AIDS than North Americans, since many people in the U.S. have European ancestors who lived through the plague which, strangely enough, makes them less vulnerable to AIDS.

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