State Health Commissioner Warns that West Nile Virus Risk Remains

Virus Found in Increasing Number of Mosquitoes in New York City and Nassau and Suffolk Counties

ALBANY, N.Y. (August 5, 2010) — State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., today warned that West Nile Virus remains a risk and urged New Yorkers to protect themselves from mosquito bites after the virus was found in mosquitoes in New York City and Long Island at higher levels that is normally seen by this time of the summer.

"A warm, dry summer is triggering an increase in West Nile Virus in the mosquito population earlier than expected," Commissioner Daines said. "Nassau and Suffolk counties, as well as New York City, recently have detected West Nile Virus in mosquitoes at much higher rates than they have seen in the past several years at this time of the summer. In addition, there are a number of preliminary reports of possible human cases in Nassau and Suffolk counties that are being investigated."

While the virus can infect individuals of all ages, those over the age of 50 are at higher risk for severe disease. In the vast majority of cases, West Nile Virus is spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. Commissioner Daines reminded all New Yorkers to remain vigilant by taking precautionary measures to protect themselves from West Nile Virus and the potential for serious illness.

Last year, more than 6,800 mosquito pools from across the State (excluding New York City) were tested, and 60 were positive. To date in 2010, with only 3,770 pools tested across the State, Nassau County already has 31 positive pools, and Suffolk County has 38. West Nile Virus usually increases in mosquitoes through the summer, so these early elevated levels are raising concerns that levels could go much higher in coming weeks, leading to increased risk of disease in people.

In response to Nassau County's request, Commissioner Daines has issued a threat declaration for Nassau County. The declaration enables Nassau County to more easily implement mosquito control measures in otherwise protected wetland areas and it simplifies the public notification process. In addition, the declaration will provide enhanced reimbursement payments should the County exceed its allocation for the season.

Both Nassau and Suffolk counties have been following integrated mosquito management principles, working to control breeding areas and applying larvicides to minimize the number of mosquitoes. These counties are currently applying chemicals to kill adult mosquitoes and are expected to do this over wider geographic areas. West Nile Virus also has been found in mosquitoes in Erie and Onondaga counties.

Although many counties perform aggressive mosquito control, New Yorkers should also take steps to protect themselves and their families from illnesses caused by mosquitoes, including wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants to protect the skin and avoiding the outdoors during the peak mosquito activity periods between dusk and dawn.

The following precautions can decrease the risk of mosquito bites and reduce mosquito breeding sites:

  • Dispose of all water-holding containers, including tin cans, plastic containers and ceramic pots.
  • 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 at least every four days.
  • 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 federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend applying insect repellent containing DEET, Picaridin, or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus for protection against mosquito bites. It is important to always follow the label directions when using insect repellent.

Facts about West Nile Virus in New York State:

  • Since 1999, there have been 389 human cases of West Nile Virus in New York State.
  • In 2009, there were seven human cases in the State, including New York City.
  • Since 1999, the State Department of Health's Wadsworth Laboratory has tested more than 72,000 mosquito pools for the virus.

To learn more about West Nile Virus, please visit the Department's Web site at http://www.nyhealth.gov/diseases/west_nile_virus/.