First Human Case of West Nile Virus Identified Upstate

ALBANY, NY, August 27, 2003 — The first human case of West Nile virus in upstate New York this year has been diagnosed, meaning New Yorkers must be especially diligent about personal mosquito protection, State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr. P.H., said today.

Laboratory tests conducted by the State Health Department's Wadsworth Center laboratories confirmed that an 81-year-old Schuyler County resident was infected with West Nile virus. The individual became ill earlier this month, and was subsequently hospitalized with symptoms of encephalitis and died.

"Our past experience suggests that the risk of human cases of West Nile virus increases dramatically during August and September," Dr. Novello said. "This West Nile virus case upstate should remind all New Yorkers that we must continue to work to reduce the potential for serious illness by protecting ourselves from mosquito bites. Older New Yorkers, who are at highest risk for serious illness should be especially careful."

Previously this year, one human case of West Nile virus was confirmed in New York City. Last year, a total of 83 New Yorkers were confirmed with West Nile virus, five of whom died.

To keep mosquitoes from getting inside the home, persons should make sure that all their doors and windows have screens and that the screens are in good repair. Wear long sleeves and long pants outdoors, especially during evening and early morning hours when mosquitoes are most active. Use an insect repellent containing DEET to cover exposed skin to reduce the chance of mosquito bites; however DEET products should be used only according to label instructions. High-risk individuals, particularly the elderly, may wish to limit the amount of time they spend outdoors between dusk and dawn, or at other times when mosquitoes are active and feeding.

Human health risk from West Nile virus is highest when the amount of virus intensifies in a particular location. Therefore, all New Yorkers are urged to help interrupt the infection cycle between birds and mosquitoes by continuing to take steps to reduce areas of standing water around their properties where mosquitoes can breed.

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 regularly.
  • Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs.
  • Use landscaping to eliminate stagnant water that collects on your property; clean up leaf litter and similar organic debris.

Dead birds, particularly crows, continue to be an excellent indicator of the presence of West Nile virus. Persons who notice dead birds, especially dead crows, are encouraged to report the sighting, including details about where the bird is located, to their local health department. Even if the bird is not collected and tested, the report itself will provide vital information.

Dead birds also may be reported to a toll-free number: 1-866-537-BIRD.

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.ny.gov/diseases/west_nile_virus/index.htm.