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Amid a record year for West Nile virus, no human vaccine on horizon

Jennifer Tank didn’t think much of the mosquito bite. The mosquitoes had been bad near her home in Avondale in the summer of 2016, but she was used to them.

Then she started to feel like she had the flu. Next came the body aches, stomach issues and a blotchy red rash that stretched over her arms, chest and back.

A few days later, a doctor decided to run a test for West Nile virus. She tested positive. 

Tank developed meningitis, then encephalitis. She lived in a fog. She forgot how to use words. Barely able to walk, she slept as much as 20 hours a day.

She had to call an ambulance three times that summer. But there is no cure for West Nile.

“There was nothing (the doctors) could ever do for me,” she said. “‘Go home and wait to die’ is what it always felt like.”

Jennifer Tank

West Nile virus has reached record numbers in Arizona this year — 550 confirmed and probable cases so far, after a heavy monsoon that allowed the mosquitoes that spread the disease to proliferate. Much like COVID-19, some people can become infected with West Nile but feel no symptoms, while others experience the disease as a life-altering condition resulting in serious long-term medical problems or disabilities. This year, over half of recorded cases have been symptomatic.