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

Announces New Television Ad Campaign to Fight West Nile Virus

Governor Urges Feds to Provide Disaster Assistance to Cover West Nile Virus Expenses; Governor Directs State Agencies to Assist Counties in Surveillance Activities

Albany, August 4 – Birds submitted to the New York State Department of Health for laboratory testing from Columbia, Erie, Rensselaer, and Schenectady 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.

"We continue to find West Nile virus in birds in counties well outside of the area originally affected and it is likely that the virus is present throughout New York State," Dr. Novello said. "With the addition of nine counties showing evidence of West Nile virus over the past two days, it is important that New Yorkers adhere to our advice and continue to take common sense precautions relating to personal protection and they should continue to reduce stagnant water where mosquitoes breed."

Three of the four counties announced today had West Nile positive crows: Erie (the Town of Tonawanda), Rensselaer (City of Troy), Schenectady (City of Schenectady). The bird found to be infected in Columbia (Town of Kinderhook) is a swan. 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, "It appears that the West Nile virus is now likely present throughout New York State, but it should not result in unnecessary alarm. Currently, there are no positive human cases to report. Less than one percent of the people infected with the virus will have symptoms that require hospitalization. Those who are most susceptible to the virus, particularly people older than 50, must be made aware of the personal protection measures that will help to reduce the risk of being bitten by a mosquito – thus, reducing their risk of being infected with the West Nile virus. People most susceptible to the virus should try to avoid outdoor locations when and where mosquitoes are most active and feeding."

With the presence of the West Nile virus now confirmed in counties throughout New York State, Governor Pataki directed State agencies to work together cooperatively, using their field resources, to help county health departments in the identification of dead birds, specifically American Crows, for testing. 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.

In addition, Dr. Novello said today that Governor Pataki will send a second letter urging the federal government to provide financial assistance to New York State to help cover the exorbitant costs that the State, City and counties have incurred as a result of this never–before–seen in the Western Hemisphere virus. In 1999, New York incurred approximately $14 million in costs to prevent the spread of the West Nile virus for activities including virus surveillance, control, larvacide, adulticide, laboratory, and insect repellant purchases. Governor Pataki provided $2.5 million in the Health Department budget this year to cover increased State activities related to the West Nile virus.

On December 8, 1999, New York State sent a letter to the federal government applying for reimbursement of the costs incurred by the State for the West Nile virus. The letter, which was sent to President Clinton and signed by Governor Pataki, specified that under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act federal assistance is needed in order to protect and save human lives. The public health emergency (West Nile virus) was identified as unusual and unprecedented in both its nature and complexity. On January 24, 2000, the State was notified that its request for emergency assistance was denied.

Of the nearly $8 million in federal assistance provided to states this year to fight the West Nile virus, New York State received only $355,000. New York was the epicenter of the virus last year and has seen the virus spread this year to counties well outside last year's affected area. Dr. Novello said that the costs being incurred in 2000 are expected to equal or exceed the $14 million spent in 1999.

Of the five additional counties announced yesterday, three of the counties 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.

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. Over 300 such specimens have been tested so far this year at Wadsworth Laboratory.

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 has been distributed to radio stations as well as television statewide. The State will also purchase television time in the Capital Region, Syracuse and Buffalo television markets to air the spot. Previously, the State purchased approximately $40,000 in television air time downstate 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 123 birds, and 38 mosquito pools. County specific results are as follows:

Birds Counties Count
  Albany 1
  Columbia 1
  Dutchess 1
  Erie 1
  Nassau 5
  NYC 31 (Staten Island 26,
Queens 3, Manhattan 2)
  Onondaga 1
  Orange 2
  Putnam 1
  Rockland 48
  Rensselaer 1
  Schenectady 1
  Washington 1
  Warren 1
  Suffolk 15
  Ulster 1
  Westchester 11 (includes February
red–tailed hawk)
Total   123

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).

8/4/00–95 OPA