First Case of Person with West Nile Virus Reported in New York State This Year, Health Officials Stress Prevention

ALBANY, NY, August 4, 2006 – New York State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr. P.H. today announced that a Staten Island resident has tested positive for West Nile virus and urged New Yorkers to take extra measures to protect themselves from this potentially serious illness. The individual became ill with flu-like symptoms in late July.

Since July 26th, the New York State Department of Health's Wadsworth Center reported West Nile virus positive results for 11 mosquito pools for Suffolk County and 1 mosquito pool each from Nassau, Rockland, and Westchester Counties. Two positive birds have also been reported since July 26 from Monroe County, and one from Tompkins County. To date, Ninety positive mosquito pools and six positive birds have been reported to the State Health Department statewide. With today's announcement, health officials are stressing the need for additional precautions.

"In recent years, we've seen a decline in the number of cases reported statewide of people testing positive for West Nile virus, but we must remain vigilant in our efforts to take precautions," Dr. Novello said. "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."

West Nile virus sometimes causes mild, "flu-like" symptoms among people, but can also result in 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.

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.

DEET (N-diethyl-meta-toluamide)-based insect repellents have been on the market for years to protect against mosquito bites, and are still recommended. In 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began recommending two alternatives to insect repellents containing DEET.

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.

Human health risk from West Nile virus is highest when the amount of virus intensifies in a particular location. 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." These materials are posted on the Department's web site at www.health.ny.gov.