Mayo Clinic Scottsdale and Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix are among three Arizona hospitals preparing to offer an experimental treatment to patients severely affected by West Nile virus.
Doctors said the hospitals, along with the Arizona Health Sciences Center in Tucson, are expected to be approved to take part in a National Institutes of Health study giving West Nile virus antibodies to patients with severe brain or spinal cord damage.
The antibodies were taken from the plasma of Israeli blood donors. "In Israel, apparently there is so much West Nile virus that the general population has a high antibody level already," said Dr. Janis Blair, chairwoman of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Mayo Clinic Scottsdale.
The Barrow Neurological Institute is studying whether giving the antibodies intravenously to West Nile patients will reduce the severity of the disease.
This method of treatment is standard in diseases such as Hepatitis A, said Dr. Philip Fracica, director of medical critical care and respiratory care services at Barrow.
"If you can give people or animals antibodies to the virus soon after they’re exposed — rather than waiting for your own antibodies to form — (the donor antibodies) can neutralize the virus and help your body fight it off," Fracica said.
Researchers want 100 participants for the study by the end of this year’s mosquito season, sometime in September.
There are strict requirements for who will be eligible to receive the treatment.
West Nile virus patients hospitalized with encephalitis, brain or spinal cord infection or who are in a coma meet the study’s criteria, Blair said.
The treatment’s potential benefit is that it will help people get over the virus more quickly, she said.
"The problem is, once a patient has brain or spinal cord damage, it can take a long time for them to have any kind of a recovery," Blair said.
Doctors could not say how soon the study would be approved, but said they hope to be ready to administer the treatment within days of approval by internal review boards.
Arizona has led the nation this season in West Nile virus cases. As of Monday, there were 163 confirmed cases statewide, including 131 in Maricopa County, with two confirmed deaths, said Arizona Department of Health Services spokesman Michael Murphy and Maricopa County Department of Public Health spokesman Douglas Hauth.