New York State Health Commissioner Cautions New Yorkers to be Aware of West Nile Virus in New York State

Simple Precautions Can Prevent Illness

ALBANY, N.Y. (August 24, 2012) – With increases in human cases of West Nile virus in New York State and throughout the country, State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H. today emphasized the importance of New Yorkers taking personal protective measures to avoid mosquito bites.

"As we continue to partner with local health departments to help reduce the public's risk of exposure and to identify mosquito-borne illness sources, it is essential that people take precautions to avoid potentially serious illnesses, such as West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis," Commissioner Shah said.

To greatly minimize exposure to West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), the New York State Department of Health (DOH) recommends people take precautionary measures such as wearing shoes, socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt when outdoors for a long period of time. People are also advised to apply appropriate mosquito repellent and to remove all standing water from property.

To date this year, a total of 714 mosquito pools have tested positive for West Nile across the state, including: Chautauqua (1) Erie (120), Nassau (58), Onondaga (10), Orange (3), Oswego (5), Rockland (88), Suffolk (176) and Westchester (22). The New York City Department of Health reported positive results for Bronx (10), Brooklyn (33), Manhattan (2), Queens (70), and Staten Island (116).

To date, the total number of human cases of West Nile virus in New York State is eleven (11). The New York City Department of Health has reported five (5) cases. The other cases include: Erie County one (1), Nassau County one (1), Oswego County one (1), Suffolk County one (1), and Onondaga County two (2). On August 20, the Onondaga County Health Department reported one of the two cases, an older adult, had been hospitalized and later succumbed to the disease.

Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus has not been detected in any mosquito samples tested to date this year. However, a horse in St. Lawrence County tested positive for EEE on July 25. No human cases of EEE have been reported this year in New York State. In neighboring Massachusetts, state health officials are urging people to take similar precautions as the number of mosquitoes infected with EEE is the most intense in the state in three decades.

In 2011, there were 44 cases of West Nile Virus, two of which were fatal, and one fatal EEE case. The fatal cases of West Nile occurred in Nassau County and the Borough of Queens. The fatal EEE case occurred in Oswego County.

West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne infection that can cause serious illness and occasionally death. Many people who contract West Nile virus do not experience any type of illness; an estimated 20 percent of people who become infected will develop mild symptoms including fever, headache and body aches, and possibly a skin rash or swollen lymph glands. Severe infection (West Nile encephalitis or meningitis) causes symptoms such as high fever, neck stiffness, muscle weakness, headaches, stupor, disorientation, tremors, convulsions, paralysis and coma. It is estimated that one in 150 persons infected with the West Nile virus will experience more severe cases of the disease.

Eastern Equine Encephalitis is a rare but serious viral disease spread by mosquitoes that can affect people and horses. Five cases have been diagnosed in humans in New York State since 1971, including a case in each of the last three years, and all have been fatal. Prior to 2009, there had not been a human case detected in the State in more than 25 years.

People of all ages are at risk for infection with the EEE virus, but people over age 50 and younger than age 15 are at greatest risk for developing severe disease. Most people bitten by an infected mosquito will not develop any symptoms. Severe cases of EEE infection begin with the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills and vomiting. The illness may then progress into disorientation, seizures, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and coma. Approximately a third of patients who develop EEE die. Many patients who survive EEE infection experience mild to severe brain damage. There is no commercially available human vaccine for EEE. The best way to protect yourself is to keep mosquitoes from biting you.

New York State is one of many states throughout the country to have an increase in West Nile virus. Thus far in 2012, 47 states have reported West Nile virus infections in people, birds, or mosquitoes. A total of 1118 cases of West Nile virus disease in people, including 41 deaths, have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The 1118 cases reported thus far in 2012 is the highest number of West Nile virus disease cases reported to CDC through the third week in August since West Nile virus was first detected in the United States in 1999. Approximately 75 percent of the cases have been reported from 5 states (Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota, and Oklahoma) and almost half of all cases have been reported from Texas.

To protect against mosquito bites and potential exposure to West Nile virus and EEE, DOH and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend applying insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Individuals should always follow the label directions when using insect repellents. People are also advised to take steps to reduce the number of mosquitoes around a home or property, including eliminating standing water in yards.

In addition, New Yorkers are urged to:

  • Dispose of used tires, tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar containers in which water collects;
  • Drill holes in the bottoms of recycling containers that are kept outdoors. Make sure roof gutters drain properly and clean clogged gutters in the spring and fall;
  • Turn over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use and change the water in bird baths twice a week;
  • Clean vegetation and debris from the edges of ponds; and
  • Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs, and drain water from pool covers.

For more information on West Nile virus visit:

For more information on Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus visit: