First West Nile Virus-Infected Bird Confirmed in New York

Officials Stress There is No Imminent Health Risk; Encourage Mosquito Reduction Strategies

Albany, NY, May 16, 2002 – New York has its first confirmed finding of West Nile virus for 2002, State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr. P.H., said today.

A crow collected in the city of Albany, Albany County, on May 1 was infected with the mosquito–borne virus, according to results from the State Health Department's Wadsworth Center laboratories. The infected crow is the first among 400 birds collected and submitted to the State Health Department since January 1, 2002 to test positive.

"The Albany County Health Department has been extremely vigilant about collecting and submitting bird specimens for testing, so finding an infected bird in the Capital Region is not unexpected and does not indicate an imminent human health risk," State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr. P.H., said. "However, this finding should remind all New Yorkers that West Nile virus has not gone away and that we must continue to work to reduce the potential for serious illness. Help protect yourself by cleaning up standing water and leaf debris around your yard where mosquitoes may breed."

Albany County Health Commissioner James Crucetti, M.D., said, "Residents of Albany County or the Capital Region should not be overly concerned with this finding. It does call attention to those simple, preventive measures that we can all take to reduce exposure."

Crows are more likely than birds of other species to die if they are infected with West Nile virus. Data collected in New York during the past two years indicate that West Nile virus primarily circulates between birds and mosquitoes this early in the season. Infected mosquitoes bite birds, which subsequently transmit the infection to other mosquitoes, as the cycle continues. Last year, West Nile virus was confirmed in birds and/or mosquitoes in 17 of New York's counties.

Human health risk from West Nile virus only occurs 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 reduce areas of standing water around their properties where mosquitoes can breed.

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.

Starting June 1, dead birds also may be reported to a toll–free number: 1–866–537–BIRD.

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 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.

To keep mosquitoes from getting inside the home, persons should make sure that all their doors and windows have screens and that the screens are in good repair.

Of Northeastern states, only New York and Pennsylvania are have reported West Nile virus infection in birds thus far during 2002. No human cases have been reported. The virus sometimes causes mild, "flu–like" symptoms 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 over the age of 50. During 2000, two New Yorkers–both from Long Island–died after being infected with West Nile virus.

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.

5/16/02–48 OPA