Health Commissioner Urges Personal Mosquito Protection

Extra caution advised in wake of State's first human case of WNV in 2001

Albany, August 16, 2001 – Now that the first human case of West Nile virus this year has been reported in New York, people should continue to be very careful and protect themselves against mosquito bites, State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H. warned today.

Health officials announced last Friday that a 73–year–old Staten Island woman is hospitalized and recovering from complications of West Nile virus. As the number of West Nile virus–positive birds and mosquitoes climbs, protecting oneself against mosquito bites takes on increased importance.

To date in 2001, more than 100 West Nile virus infected–birds have been identified in six counties (Chemung, Nassau, Rockland, Suffolk, Ulster and Westchester) and the boroughs of Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island in New York City. In addition, a total of 28 mosquito pools have been confirmed in Nassau and Suffolk counties and in New York City. With 77 infected birds, 12 positive mosquito pools and one of the highest dead crow densities, Suffolk County has had the most West Nile virus findings of any area in the State so far this year.

"Fortunately, most mosquitoes are simply a nuisance, but some can and do spread disease, so it is important to take appropriate precautions against being bitten, especially at this time of year," Dr. Novello said. "During the past two summers, most of the New Yorkers who developed serious complications of West Nile virus were known to be infected between late July and September, so it is prudent to exercise additional care during this time."

Aiding in the fight against mosquitoes, the State Health Department has purchased $75,000 in air time to broadcast its "Fight the Bite" message on radio stations across New York. These broadcasts are meant to remind people about personal mosquito protection, as well as the importance of continued mosquito source reduction by eliminating collections of standing water where mosquitoes are known to breed.

In addition to this statewide radio campaign, the State Health Department has been running television spots worth more than $300,000 on broadcast and cable stations throughout the State. A $16,000 transit card campaign also is underway on buses in Binghamton, Buffalo, the Capital Region, Long Island, Syracuse, Rochester and Utica. The Department, also, has produced thousands of brochures, fact sheets, stickers and posters and many other types of educational materials to support the Fight the Bite public awareness effort.

New York State's West Nile virus response plan stresses public education and source reduction, including larvaciding. This technique is meant to kill mosquitoes in their aquatic stage, thus keeping the virus from intensifying in a particular area and spilling over into the human population. The plan also calls for intensive bird, mosquito and human surveillance so that health officials will know where West Nile virus is occurring and to what extent it is present.

"New Yorkers have responded responsibly to our request that they pick up tires and other debris that can collect water around their homes and, in so doing, reduce their exposure to mosquito breeding sites and infected mosquitoes," Dr. Novello said. "It is crucial, in the presence of the first case of West Nile, that we reinforce protective messages at every opportunity, and provide the most timely advice about the best ways to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes that might be carrying disease."

Although more than 75 different species of mosquitoes have been identified in New York State, most do not transmit diseases. The Culex species (C. pipiens and C. restuans) seems to be most closely associated with transmission of West Nile virus in New York. Other species have been associated with diseases that occur sporadically in New York State, e.g., Eastern Equine Encephalitis, California sero–group virus (Jamestown Canyon virus, LaCrosse virus) and malaria. Because it is impossible for individuals to know whether mosquitoes they observe are infected, mosquito avoidance is prudent, particularly if West Nile virus has been identified in the area. The State Health Department recommends:

  • Avoid outdoor activities at times when mosquitoes are obviously active and feeding;
  • Replace or repair broken screens and install new screens as needed;
  • Wear shoes and socks, long pants and a long–sleeved shirt when you will be outside for a long period of time. Consider applying a mosquito repellent containing DEET to your clothing and any exposed skin;
  • Always use DEET products carefully, especially with children. Use only the amount and concentrations necessary for your particular situation and be aware of the possible adverse health effects;
  • If you spend a lot of time outdoors, consider purchasing special clothing made of a mosquito netting material, to allow you to stay cool while protecting you from bites.

Following are important ways to reduce breeding sites of the Culex pipiens mosquito (also called the Northern House Mosquito) that is most closely associated with transmission of West Nile virus:

  • Dispose of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar outdoor items that hold water;
  • Remove all discarded tires from your property;
  • Drill holes in the bottoms of recycling containers that are kept outdoors;
  • Clean clogged rain gutters and make sure they continue to work properly;
  • Turn over wheelbarrows and wading pools when not in use;
  • Change water in bird baths at least every four days;
  • Clear vegetation and debris from the edges of ponds; turn over boats so they cannot collect water;
  • Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs;
  • Check your property frequently for standing water and items that can collect water, especially after rain storms; and
  • Use landscaping to eliminate low spots where standing water accumulates.

New Yorkers also are encouraged to continue reporting dead birds to their county health department or to call 1–866–537–BIRD toll free. More information about West Nile virus, personal protection measures, dead bird reporting and New York State's "Fight the Bite" campaign is posted on the State Health Department's website (www.health.state.ny.us).