New York State Department of Health Urges New Yorkers to Protect Themselves Against West Nile Virus

Human Cases of West Nile Virus Confirmed in Nassau, Westchester and Monroe Counties

ALBANY, N.Y. (August 23, 2018) - The New York State Department of Health is reminding New Yorkers to take personal protective measures to avoid mosquito bites, after confirming the first three human cases of West Nile Virus outside of New York City in Nassau, Westchester and Monroe Counties for a combined total of seven human cases to date in 2018. Working with local health departments, the Department tracks mosquito activity and releases weekly surveillance reports.

"At the Governor Cuomo's direction, the Department of Health launched an aggressive mosquito-borne disease plan earlier this summer, and we continue to work with our local partners to reduce public health risks," said State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker."The most important thing New Yorkers can do is take the appropriate precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones from mosquito bites."

West Nile virus (WNV) is transmitted to humans and some animals through the bite of an infected mosquito. WNV was first identified in New York State in 1999. Since 2000, 497 human cases and 37 deaths of WNV have been reported statewide.

Most people infected with WNV do not develop any signs or symptoms. If illness develops, symptoms usually occur 3-15 days after the bite from an infected mosquito. People with mild cases of mosquito-borne disease may develop fever, headache, body aches and occasionally a skin rash or swollen glands. People with severe cases of WNV usually have a sudden onset of headache, high fever, neck stiffness, muscle weakness, altered mental status, tremors, convulsions, paralysis, inflammation of the brain or the membranes of the brain and spinal cord or coma.

There is no specific treatment available for WNV and antibiotics cannot treat the viral infection. Patients are treated for their symptoms and provided supportive therapy. Of the less than 1 in 150 people with severe WNV disease, death is very rare and almost all patients recover completely. People with mild cases of WNV usually recover completely. In cases of severe disease, supportive therapy may include hospitalization, respiratory support, IV fluids and treatment of other infections that develop.

Mosquito Education and Outreach

At the Governor's direction, the Department of Health has issued a seasonal mosquito-borne disease health advisory to all local health departments and health care providers on symptoms and diagnostic procedures for West Nile virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus and Zika virus.This information will also be available on the Department's website and social media platforms to provide further public education emphasizing personal protection. For further information throughout mosquito season, a weekly mosquito-borne disease activity report published by the Department can be found here.

In order to protect pets and animals that may also contract or carry these diseases, DOH also provides information to veterinary medical practitioners on the appropriate procedures for diagnosing mosquito-borne illness.

In addition, the Department provides educational materials about mosquito-borne diseases at The Great New York State Fair.This year, the Department will also provide mosquito repellent wipes and larvicide at The Fair, which runs through September 3.

Mosquito Surveillance and Assistance

  • Mosquito surveillance:Working with various county health departments, starting in early summer, the Department coordinates the weekly collection and identification of mosquitoes from traps located in key habitats for mosquitoes.Staff use the data to identify areas of disease risk and track trends in infections by geographic area and guide local decision-making and technical assistance regarding local mosquito control measures.
  • Human surveillance:Each summer, the Department sends alerts to increase healthcare providers' awareness of the symptoms of WNV, EEE and Zika. When providers suspect a mosquito-borne illness, the Department, in cooperation with county health departments, investigates and samples can be tested at the DOH Wadsworth Laboratory.
  • Animal surveillance:The Department and counties maintain veterinary surveillance for encephalitis in horses. Horses are very sensitive to EEE and infection is often fatal.Suspect cases are tested at the Department's Wadsworth Laboratory to confirm infection. Vaccines are available to help protect horses from EEE and WNV. Horse owners should also minimize exposure to infected mosquitoes by frequently changing water in troughs and buckets and eliminating other standing water sources.

Mosquito Prevention Tips

The Department recommends the following precautions to reduce risk of infection from mosquito-borne diseases:

  • Cover your skin as completely as possible while outside when mosquitoes are present and active. Wear long sleeves, pants and socks.
  • Use insect repellent recommended for use on exposed skin.
  • Always follow label directions before using any kind of repellent.
  • Reduce or eliminate all standing water in yards.
  • Remove discarded tires and turn over containers in which water can collect.
  • Make sure all windows and doors have screens and are free of rips, tears or holes.
  • Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs.
  • Drain water from pool covers.
  • Clean vegetation and debris from the edges of ponds.
  • Larvicide can be used according to label directions on areas where water collects and cannot be removed or drained - see guidance here.

Click for more information on West Nile virus.