State Health Department Confirms Presence of West Nile Virus in Five Additional Counties

Albany, August 3 – Birds submitted to the New York State Department of Health for laboratory testing from Albany, Dutchess, Putnam, Warren and Washington 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, indicating the likelihood that the virus is present throughout the State.

"Since we are finding West Nile virus in birds in counties well outside of the area originally affected, and many of the birds are too young to fly far, it is likely that the virus is present throughout New York State," Dr. Novello said. "That news shouldn't result in unnecessary alarm, but it should send a signal that the advice we have given to reduce stagnant water where mosquitoes breed and to protect yourself from being bitten by mosquitoes makes sense for all New Yorkers, and should be heeded now more than ever."

Three of the counties announced today had West Nile positive crows: Albany County (specimen submitted from the town of Colonie), Warren County (specimen submitted from the town of Warrensburg) and Washington County (specimen submitted from the town of Greenwich). In Dutchess County, the virus was confirmed in a blue jay from Wappinger Falls, and the Putnam County bird specimen was a house sparrow submitted from the town of Southeast. 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.

Dr. Novello said older New Yorkers, especially, should try to avoid being outside at times of day and in locations when mosquitoes are most active and feeding, since people 50 and older are at highest risk from West Nile virus. Individuals with chronic illnesses that impair the immune system and young children may also be more susceptible. The vast majority of people who are infected with West Nile virus either have no, or mild symptoms. Officials estimate fewer than one percent of people who are infected will become seriously ill.

West Nile virus can cause a range of symptoms, from mild flu–like symptoms, headache and fever, to severe illness. In the most serious cases, infection can result in encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain. During last year's West Nile virus outbreak, 62 people developed encephalitis and seven died. Cases of West Nile encephalitis were confirmed last year in New York City (including a visitor from Canada), Westchester County and Nassau County.

To date in 2000, there have been no confirmed human cases of encephalitis caused by West Nile virus, although the State Health Department continually tests for West Nile virus in encephalitis cases for which there is no known cause. Nearly 300 such specimens have been tested so far this year at Wadsworth Laboratory.

Health officials stress that dead bird reports are the best way of tracking the spread of West Nile virus, and they encourage New Yorkers who observe dead crows to contact their local health departments. Crows are particularly vulnerable, 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 serve as the reservoir for West Nile virus, 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. Because the virus may well be in parts of the State where it has yet to be confirmed, Dr. Novello urged all New Yorkers to be vigilant about personal protection.

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

Dr. Novello said a Public Service Announcement (PSA) urging people to eliminate stagnant water around their homes and places of business was taped yesterday and will be distributed to radio stations statewide. The State will purchase time to air the spot. Previously, the State purchased approximately $40,000 in television air time to broadcast a "Fight the Bite" announcement. That message, which features several children and adults working together to remove standing water and items that collect water from around the home, also has been running as a public service announcement since late March.

All last month, the "Fight the Bite" message was carried on more than 200 movie screens from Dutchess County to Long Island, as part of a multi–media effort funded through New York State's West Nile virus response plan. Brochures, fact sheets, posters, stickers and other novelty items and various educational materials also support the public awareness effort.

As of today, in 2000, the State Health Department has confirmed West Nile virus in 119 birds, and 38 mosquito pools. County specific results are as follows:

Birds Counties Count
  Albany 1
  Dutchess 1
  Nassau 5
  NYC 31 (Staten Island 26, Queens 3, Manhattan 2)
  Onondaga 1
  Orange 2
  Putnam 1
  Rockland 48
  Washington 1
  Warren 1
  Suffolk 15
  Ulster 1
  Westchester 11 (includes February red–tailed hawk)
Total   119

Mosquito
Pools
Counties Count
  NYC 3 (Staten Island 2, Manhattan 1)
  Orange 1
  Rockland 2
  Suffolk 31
  Westchester 1
Total   38

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).

8/3/00–94 OPA