Human West Nile Virus Infection Now Identified in New York State, Health Officials Urge Prevention

Putnam County Youth Tests Positive for West Nile Virus

ALBANY, NY, July 28, 2005 – State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr. P.H. today announced that a Putnam County youth has tested positive for West Nile virus and urged New Yorkers to take extra measures to protect themselves from this potentially serious infection.

Results from the State Health Department's Wadsworth Center laboratories repeated earlier findings from a commercial laboratory indicating West Nile virus infection. The child became ill several weeks ago but has since recovered. With yesterday's announcement that two New York City residents have been preliminarily diagnosed with West Nile fever, health officials are stressing the need for additional precautions.

"These findings should remind all New Yorkers that we must renew our efforts to reduce the potential for serious illness by protecting ourselves from mosquito bites," Dr. Novello said. "Although older New Yorkers, who are at highest risk of health effects from West Nile virus, should be especially careful, infection can occur in all age groups with potentially severe consequences."

In New York State, the health risk from West Nile virus increases as the summer progresses and the disease spills over from its reservoir of bird-feeding mosquitoes into species that bite people. Most human cases occur during August and September in the Northeast region of the nation.

The best way to avoid West Nile virus is to prevent mosquito bites. Keep mosquitoes out of the house by making sure that screens are in good repair. High-risk individuals, particularly the elderly, should limit the amount of time they spend outdoors between dusk and dawn, or other times when mosquitoes are feeding. For protection against bites, wear long sleeves and long pants outdoors, especially during evening and early morning hours when mosquitoes are most active. Also, consider using an insect repellent to cover exposed skin. Always follow label instructions, and be especially careful when applying repellents to children.

This year, for the first time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends two alternatives to insect repellents containing DEET (N-diethyl-meta-toluamide). Picaridin, also known as KBR 3023, is the active ingredient found in many mosquito repellents previously used in Europe, Australia, Latin America and Asia. Research indicates that it works well, and is comparable with DEET products of similar concentration. The other repellent is oil of lemon eucalyptus (also known as p-menthane 3,8-diol or PMD), a plant-based mosquito repellent that provided protection time similar to low concentration DEET products. Both have now been approved for sale in New York State.

"With additional options, there is no reason we should not be protecting ourselves against mosquito-borne diseases," Dr. Novello said. "West Nile virus is here and the time for sensible precautions is now."

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 at www.health.ny.gov.