First West Nile Virus-Infected Bird Confirmed

Officials Stress There Is No Imminent Health Risk; Encourage Mosquito Reduction Strategies

ALBANY, NY, May 21, 2003 - New York has its first confirmed finding of West Nile virus for 2003, State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr. P.H., said today.

A crow collected in Bedford, Westchester County, on May 5 was infected with the mosquito-borne virus, according to results from the State Health Department's Wadsworth Center laboratories. The infected crow is the first among 367 birds collected and submitted to the State Health Department since January 1, 2003 to test positive.

"New York State has been extremely aggressive in conducting West Nile virus surveillance, as has Westchester County, so finding an infected bird at this time of year is not unexpected and does not indicate an imminent human health risk," State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr. P.H., said. "A year ago, we confirmed the first infected bird on May 16. New Yorkers should remember that West Nile virus was present throughout the State during 2002, infecting 85 people and claiming five lives. West Nile virus has not gone away and we must continue to work to reduce the potential for serious illness. Join us in our mission and help protect yourself by cleaning up standing water and leaf debris around your yard where mosquitoes may breed."

Crows are more likely than birds of other species to die if they are infected with West Nile virus. Data collected in New York during the past several years indicate that West Nile virus primarily circulates between birds and mosquitoes this early in the season. Infected mosquitoes bite birds, which subsequently transmit the infection to other mosquitoes, as the cycle continues. Last year, West Nile virus was confirmed in birds and/or mosquitoes in 59 of New York's 62 counties.

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

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.

Dead birds also may be reported to a toll-free number: 1-866-537-BIRD. Even if the bird is not collected and tested, the report itself will provide vital information.

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 bird baths.
  • 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.

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.

West Nile virus sometimes causes mild, "flu-like" symptoms but can also produce serious complications, including encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). Persons at greatest risk of becoming seriously ill from West Nile virus are individuals over the age of 50.

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