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West Nile On The March

The mosquito season is barely underway through much of the south, and already states are itching in more ways than one.

In Louisiana, now on the verge of the largest West Nile outbreak in the nation, state funds to battle the insect are drying up.

"This is earlier than we typically see this many cases," says Roy Campbell, medical epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control. "We're going to go ahead and declare a state of emergency."

Some areas have already spent 10 times what they normally spend for pesticide spraying, and still, the number of people getting sick is on the rise.

This year in Louisiana alone, the West Nile virus has killed four people and made nearly 60 others sick.

It has spread with lightning speed, from the northeast to some 34 states in just three years. Most agree by next year it will have spread all the way to California.

State epidemiologist Rault Ratard says this is only the beginning.

"We are going to have more and more cases."

The prediction is putting even more pressure on scientists to find a West Nile cure.

Kurt Krause, of the University of Houston, says, "we know it can be done."

Researchers are rushing to find a vaccine that can keep the virus from replicating but that could take years.

"The very same techniques have been used to design the new therapies that are effective in HIV," says Krause.

There is one approved vaccine, but so far it's only for horses; 40 percent of which die if infected.

By contrast, only 1 in every 300 people bitten by an infected mosquito actually becomes sick.

But that still means tens of thousands of people are being infected and don't even know it. It is still considered a rare disease, but as it continues to spread, rare is a word that is offering little comfort.

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