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

Positive Bird Specimens are Confirmed in Saratoga and Clinton Counties

Albany, August 18, 2000 – The State Health Department today added Saratoga and Clinton counties to the list of counties where birds and/or mosquitoes infected with West Nile virus have been found in New York State.

The Saratoga County bird, a crow, was discovered in the town of Greenfield. The Clinton County bird, a type of warbler called an ovenbird, was discovered in the town of Ausable. Both counties are adjacent to counties where the virus previously has been identified this summer.

Also today, the State Health Department's Wadsworth Laboratory identified West Nile virus in bird specimens submitted from Onondaga County (3 birds), Orange County (8), Suffolk County (7) and Westchester County (2), as well as in five birds from New York City (Staten Island 1, Queens 4). Five additional positive mosquito pools were confirmed, four from Staten Island and one from Suffolk County.

Today's laboratory results bring the total of West Nile virus positive birds in New York State since January of this year to 240 and the number of positive mosquito pools to 132. Three human cases have been identified, all of them residents of Staten Island, who are recovering.

"Most people who are infected will not become seriously ill, but the West Nile virus can have devastating consequences for people at high risk, primarily older individuals," State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H, Dr.P.H., warned. "These people, in particular, need to protect themselves from mosquito bites by wearing appropriate clothing and by using an insect repellent containing DEET when they spend time outdoors. All New Yorkers can help reduce the threat of illness by replacing or repairing their broken screens and eliminating areas of stagnant water on their properties where mosquitoes breed."

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.

West Nile virus also was responsible for 25 cases of illness and nine deaths among horses in Suffolk County last year. However, not all horses that are infected with West Nile virus become ill. Samples collected from clinically normal horses that were stablemates of the affected horses showed that 29 percent of these horses had also been infected with West Nile, even though they were never ill. The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets has been working closely with public health officials to monitor for equine cases of West Nile virus and to advise on ways to protect horses against the disease.

"Unfortunately, the presence of the West Nile Virus has been detected in more counties of the State, including areas that have significant equine populations," said Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets Nathan L. Rudgers. "The Department of Agriculture and Markets will continue to work closely with NYRA officials at the Saratoga Race Course to help protect horses from this deadly virus."

Saratoga Race Track management has practiced mosquito control since the racing season began, Commissioner Rudgers said. Beginning two weeks ago, ground fogging for adult mosquitoes has been conducted every Tuesday.

Like humans, horses become infected with West Nile virus when infected mosquitoes bite them. There have been no reported cases of West Nile among horses in New York State since last year on Long Island.

Precautions to decrease mosquito habitat can help minimize the chance of a horse becoming infected with West Nile virus (as well as decreasing the risk of human disease). You can decrease mosquito habitat near stable areas by emptying standing water from cans, tires, swimming pool covers, clogged gutters or other materials which can serve as mosquito breeding sites. Don't let water troughs become breeding sites and keep water fresh.

The virus is not spread by direct contact with infected animals or birds, but rather, by the bite of an infected mosquito. Birds, particularly crows, are a reservoir for the virus and the presence of dead birds can be a sign that there are infected mosquitoes nearby.

New Yorkers also are asked to report dead bird sightings to their local health departments. Additional information on West Nile virus, dead bird reporting and proper use of DEET is posted on the State Health Department website (www.health.state.ny.us).

8/18/00–105 OPA