Survey: West Nile virus infection in NYC

United Press International - March 21, 2000 20:37


NEW YORK, March 21 (UPI) -- Almost 2,000 people may been infected with the West Nile virus in the New York City hotspot where it struck the hardest last year.

According to a survey released by the New York City Health Department, from 533 to 1,903 residents, almost 3 percent of the population, in a three-square-mile area of northern Queens were infected with the mosquito-borne virus that killed seven people and made 62 other sill last fall. However, only a fraction of the people infected with the West Nile virus became ill with the virus, which produces flu-like symptoms but can lead to inflammation of the brain.

"None of the 19 people who tested positive for the virus became seriously ill," said New York Health Department spokesman John Gadd. "Some reported no symptoms or mild illness, like a low-grade fever." The survey tested about 700 people who gave blood voluntarily last fall at mobile health vans in the Queens' neighborhoods of Whitestone, Auburndale, Linden Hill and Murray Hill.

Those who tested positive for the West Nile virus developed immunity to the virus but Health Department officials can't predict how long that immunity will last.

The West Nile virus was first detected in the western hemisphere last September. The virus is spread to birds and mammals by mosquitoes. Despite daily spraying of the pesticide malathion throughout New York City last fall, the Centers for Disease Control said this month that the virus may have hibernated in some mosquitoes and may reappear this summer.

There is no vaccine to protect against the West Nile encephalitis virus. New York City is planning an extensive campaign to kill mosquito larva and reduce mosquito breeding sites. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said the city will "kill as many of those critters as possible."

Next month the city will use larvicide in its storm and sewer lines. The city is also urging residents to eliminate any standing pool of water that can serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The city wants residents and landlords to unclog roof gutters, drain standing water and rain barrels, chlorinate pools, dispose of tires and change bird bath water every week. Meanwhile, the New York state Department of Health has developed a draft West Nile Virus Response Plan.

It calls for an extensive education campaign, if needed, that includes: a professional education kit containing a letter from the state health commissioner; fact sheets, treatment information, reporting instructions, samples of the public education materials and an order form; information on the DOH website; and news releases for professional journals and newsletters.

The plan also calls for developing a public education component, in English, Spanish and other appropriate languages, that will include, but not be limited to TV and radio spots; transit advertising; posters, flyers and paycheck stuffers; news and feature releases, fact sheets; information on the DOH website; an informational hotline; print advertising for ethnic and community weeklies and Pennysavers; and CDC's "Neato Mosquito" elementary school curriculum.

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