State Health Commissioner Urges Continued Vigilance Against West Nile Virus

Buffalo Resident's Death Remains Under Investigation

Albany, October 8, 2002 – At a news conference in Buffalo today, State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H. announced that tests conducted at the State Health Department's Wadsworth Center laboratories have revealed the presence of West Nile virus in brain tissue of a 76–year–old Erie County resident who died after being hospitalized with symptoms of West Nile virus infection.

The man, whose name has not been released by health officials to protect patient confidentiality, was admitted to the hospital on September 12 with symptoms of viral meningitis and died September 28. So far this year, six New Yorkers have died after suffering symptoms of West Nile virus; however, West Nile virus has not been officially determined as the cause of death in all of those cases. Health officials have not yet announced a cause of death in the Buffalo case.

In Erie County, six cases of West Nile virus have been recorded this year, the most recent announced just yesterday. That case involved a 76–year–old who experienced onset of symptoms on September 26 and who remains hospitalized. Statewide, 56 cases of West Nile virus have been identified, 25 of them among New York City residents. The other cases have occurred throughout New York State, indicating the virus has been circulating widely.

"We want all New Yorkers to be aware of West Nile virus and to work together to reduce its impact," Dr. Novello said. "This virus is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes, so it continues to be crucial to reduce areas of standing water, especially around our own homes and property, where mosquitoes breed. Even though the weather is getting cooler and there are fewer mosquitoes around, eggs that have been laid in standing water can hatch next spring, starting the cycle of infection anew. Now is also the time of year to clean out roof gutters and remove leaf litter, both of which can harbor mosquitoes."

Although the presence of West Nile virus previously has been confirmed in all of New York's 62 counties, until this year human cases have been confined to New York City and surrounding areas. As in years past, the most serious symptoms have occurred in individuals who are 50 or older, although younger people have also become ill.

"It's important to remember that West Nile virus has caused illness across the United States this year and that the number of New York cases is not especially high by comparison," Dr. Novello said. "Considering that West Nile virus has been confirmed in more dead birds than ever before in our State (1,104), it's clear that our comprehensive campaign to 'Fight the Bite' is working. However, we need to continue and build upon our intensive efforts to reduce the human toll from West Nile virus."

Dr. Novello stressed that prevention education is the foundation of the State's West Nile virus response, along with dead bird reports and active surveillance to confirm the virus in birds, mammals and mosquito pools, and to identify possible human cases. Counties will be encouraged to continue or expand their vector control activities, such as identifying what mosquito species are present within a defined area, finding potential problem spots and taking appropriate measures, such as applying larvicide.

The following strategies are recommended to reduce mosquito breeding sites:

  • Dispose of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots and similar water–holding containers.
  • Remove all discarded tires on your property. Used tires have become the most common mosquito breeding ground in the country.
  • Drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers that are kept outdoors.
  • Make sure gutters drain properly, and clean clogged gutters in the spring and fall.
  • Turn over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use.
  • Change the water in birdbaths.
  • Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs.
  • Drain water from pool covers.
  • Use landscaping to eliminate stagnant water that collects on your property; clean up leaf litter and similar organic debris.

The New York State Department of Health has many informational materials about West Nile virus and how New Yorkers can help to "Fight the Bite." Those materials are posted on the Department's website: http://www.health.state.ny.us/diseases/west_nile_virus/

10/8/02–111 OPA