State Health Department Urges New Yorkers to Take Precautions to Protect Themselves from Potential Exposure to West Nile Virus

ALBANY, NY, May 27, 2005 - The arrival of Memorial Day historically marks the beginning of summer, it also signifies the beginning of increased mosquito activity in New York State. To increase public awareness, State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr. P.H., is urging New Yorkers to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites and protect themselves from potential exposure to West Nile virus.

"In recent years, we've seen a decline in the number of cases reported statewide of people testing positive for West Nile virus, with zero cases reported last year. Our nationally recognized education and awareness campaign, 'Fight the Bite,' has helped us increase New Yorkers' knowledge of West Nile virus and the safeguards we all should take to reduce the prevalence of mosquitoes around the home."

West Nile has been found in all counties in New York. Information collected during the past several years indicates that, at this time of year, West Nile virus primarily circulates between birds and mosquitoes, with crows showing the most vulnerability to infection, sickness and death among bird species.

West Nile virus sometimes causes mild, "flu-like" symptoms among people, 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 50 years of age or older.

Dead birds continue to be the most effective 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. So far this year West Nile virus-positive dead birds have been found in two counties in New York. Dead birds also may be reported to a toll-free number: 1-866-537-BIRD.

Public health risk to West Nile virus increases 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 decrease the risk of mosquito bites, and to reduce mosquito breeding sites. A number of factors may contribute to the prevalence of West Nile virus in a specific geographic region, including: previous winter conditions, precipitation, temperature, bird and mosquito activity and moist areas where there is standing water.

The Department recommends New Yorkers take the following precautions to eliminate mosquito breeding areas around the home:

  • Dispose of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots and similar water-holding containers.
  • Remove all discarded tires on your property. Used tires have become one the most common mosquito breeding grounds.
  • 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.
  • Make sure that all doors and windows have screens and that the screens are in good repair.

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