State Health Department Advises New Yorkers to Take Precautions to Protect Themselves from West Nile Virus

Albany, NY, August 31, 2006 - New York State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr. P.H. today urged New Yorkers to take extra measures to protect themselves from West Nile Virus (WNV) during this time of year when transmission of this potentially serious illness from mosquitoes to humans is at its peak.

There have been two human cases of WNV reported in New York State this year, one in Staten Island and one in Suffolk County. The State Health Department also announced this week that the first two mosquito pools have tested positive for Lacrosse encephalitis virus (LAC) in Orange County and on Long Island.

The New York State Department of Health's Wadsworth Center reported that 25 counties statewide, including New York City, have tested 258 mosquito pools and 124 birds that are positive for WNV. Based on these increased reports of WNV activity, health officials are emphasizing the need for additional precautions against mosquito bites. The reported number of dead birds and mosquito pools are higher this year than at this time last year.

LAC is another arthropod-borne infection like WNV that is caused by a virus transmitted by mosquitoes. Both WNV and LAC usually occur during the summer and early fall, when mosquitoes are most active. Two mosquito pools have tested positive for LAC virus in Orange and Nassau Counties. The same common sense precautions for West Nile Virus are also effective against LAC. On average, 70 cases of LAC are reported nationally each year.

"Today's reports are reminders to 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 the number of people infected with West Nile Virus has declined in recent years, it is important that September typically is the month when the most cases of illness are reported. People must continue to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites and eliminate standing water where mosquitoes can't breed."

Arthropod-borne infections sometimes cause 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 with WNV are individuals 50 years of age or older, while those at greatest risk of becoming seriously ill with LAC are those under age 16.

The best way to avoid contracting WNV and LAC 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 mosquito 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 help protect against mosquito bites, and are still recommended. The repellants Picaridin and Lemon eucalyptus were approved for use in New York in 2005.

Picaridin, also known as KBR 3023, the active ingredient found in many mosquito repellents is approved for use in New York since 2005 and is comparable with DEET products of similar concentration. Lemon eucalyptus (also known as p-menthane 3,8-diol or PMD), is a plant-based mosquito repellent that provides protection time similar to low concentration DEET products and is also approved for use in New York since 2005.

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, are an important indicator of the presence of WNV. Report dead birds and their locations, especially dead crows, to your local health department or call the State toll free number at 1-866-537-BIRD. Every report provides important surveillance information.

Information on New York's "Fight the Bite" campaign, as well as WNV and LAC, can be found on the New York State Health Department's web site at: www.health.ny.gov.