State Health Department Confirms West Nile Virus in Ulster and Onondaga County Crows

Albany, July 28 – Crows submitted to the New York State Department of Health for laboratory testing from Onondaga and Ulster counties were found to be infected with West Nile virus, Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H., said today.

The Onondaga County crow was submitted from the village of Liverpool, near Syracuse. The Ulster County crow was submitted from the township of Rochester, in the central portion of the county. The State Health Department's Wadsworth Laboratory confirmed the presence of virus in the bird specimens, based on repeated positive results of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests on several tissues.

Dr. Novello said New Yorkers should not be unduly alarmed by the findings. Instead, they should stay informed, and should take personal and environmental protection steps to decrease their risk of being bitten by mosquitoes.

"We don't know whether finding infected birds in these locations is an anomaly, since, to date, there have been no infected birds or mosquitoes identified in either county, despite ongoing bird and mosquito surveillance. Still, we should continue to be vigilant, and for this, there are common sense precautions people can and should take to protect themselves and their families," Dr. Novello said. "That means eliminating all standing water around your home where mosquitoes breed, reporting dead bird sightings to your local health department and taking personal mosquito protection measures, as appropriate."

Personal mosquito protection measures include installing or repairing screens, avoiding likely mosquito habitats, choosing clothing that provides maximum protection against biting insects and considering, after following the label instructions, the use of an insect repellent containing DEET.

West Nile virus can cause a range of symptoms, from mild flulike symptoms, headache and fever, to severe illness. In the most serious cases, infection can result in encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain. This year, as last, elderly individuals, or those with compromised immune systems, are most at risk.

During last year's West Nile virus outbreak, 62 people developed encephalitis and seven died. Cases of West Nile encephalitis were confirmed in New York City (including a visitor from Canada), Westchester County and Nassau County.

As of today, in 2000, the State Health Department has confirmed West Nile virus in 67 birds, and 25 mosquito pools. County specific results are as follows:

Birds

County Count Notes
Nassau 3  
Onondaga 1  
Rockland 33  
Suffolk 3  
Ulster 1  
Westchester 10 (includes February red-tailed hawk)
NYC 16 (Staten Island 13, Queens 3)
Total 67  

Mosquito Pools

County Count Notes
Suffolk 18  
Orange 1  
NYC 3 (Staten Island 2, Manhattan 1)
Rockland 2  
Westchester 1  
Total 25  

Health officials stress that there have been no known cases of illness caused by West Nile virus among humans this year.

The Ulster County crow is the only one of 56 dead crows reported in the county so far this year, and 28 submitted for testing, to show a positive result. In Onondaga County, 19 dead crows were reported and 18 submitted for testing. More than 4,500 dead crows have been reported statewide, and 1,039 have been submitted for testing.

Dead birds, especially crows, were present in large numbers in areas affected by last year's West Nile virus outbreak. Crows are particularly susceptible to the virus, and the vast majority of infected crows die. For that reason, they are considered to be an important early warning sign that infection could be present in a specific area.

Birds are not the source of West Nile virus, but rather, serve as its reservoir, after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Culex pipiens/restuans, and Aedes japonicus are the only species in which West Nile virus has been identified in New York State. Culex most often bite between dusk and dawn, Aedes japonicus bite during the daytime and at dusk.

People with questions about West Nile virus, or reports of dead birds, are urged to contact their local health department. Additional information also is posted on the State Health Department's web site (www.health.state.ny.us).

7/28/00-92 OPA