Migrating Birds Found in Saratoga and Orange Counties Test Positive for West Nile Virus
Risk of Encephalitis is "Minimal" for Residents of the Capital District
Albany, October 15 – The New York State Health Department announced today that a dead crow and a cuckoo collected earlier this month in Ballston Spa, Saratoga County and at the West Point Military Academy, in Orange County, respectively, have tested positive for the West Nile–like virus, the infectious agent responsible for a outbreak of encephalitis in the New York City area. However, State health officials believe that the risk of contracting West Nile encephalitis is minimal for residents of the Capital District.
Although large numbers of dead birds, particularly dead crows, are a sign that the West Nile–like virus may be present in an area, the number and pattern of dead bird reports from the Capital District is very different from what has been observed elsewhere in New York where human cases are confirmed or suspected.
Health officials believe that the birds collected in Saratoga and Orange counties most likely were infected in the New York City area and migrated north. Young crows, such as the bird reported from Saratoga County, are capable of flying 150 to 200 miles a day. Cuckoos also migrate very long distances.
The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes which feed on infected birds and then bite humans. The recent cold weather in upstate New York also has lessened the risk of exposure to the West Nile–like virus, since few mosquitoes remain active. Nevertheless, any persons who will be spending time outdoors in likely mosquitoes habitats such as woods, wetlands and brushy areas on warm days (temperatures above 50 degrees) should limit their risk of mosquito bites, as a precaution. Wear long sleeved shirts, long pants and socks, and use an insect repellent containing DEET according to label instructions.
Symptoms of encephalitis caused by the West Nile–like virus include rapid onset headache, high fever, disorientation, tremors, convulsions, and, in the most severe cases, paralysis or death. A total of 55 laboratory positive human cases of encephalitis caused by the West Nile–like virus have been reported to date, including six fatal cases. Thirty–nine of the case reports came from New York City; nine came from Westchester County and six from Nassau County. A Canadian citizen also contracted the illness during a visit to Queens and later died.
The vast majority of affected individuals became sick during August and the early part of September, before extensive mosquito surveillance and control efforts were fully implemented. Downstate counties with confirmed human or bird cases have been trapping mosquitoes to determine whether they are infected and spraying to reduce the overall number of mosquitoes. Based on these efforts and the colder temperatures, mosquito populations have dramatically declined.
Previously, West Nile–like viral infection has been confirmed in New York State in birds from New York City, Nassau, Suffolk, Rockland and Westchester counties.
Those who have questions about the West Nile–like virus, symptoms of encephalitis or mosquito protection may call the State Health Department's encephalitis hotline at 1–800–962–7366 or 1–888–697–4234. Hours of operation are until 8 p.m. tonight, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.