With the thermometer stuck on “hot” this April, Queens officials are stepping up their efforts to prevent and eliminate the threat of West Nile disease in the borough.
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall held her first meeting of her borough-wide Mosquito Task Force on Monday, April 11, where representatives of city and state agencies presented updated plans to tackle the mosquito-bourne West Nile challenge, circa 2002.
Log on to the New York City Department of Health’s website at www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/wnvhome.html to report dead birds, puddles of mosquito breeding water or to obtain information on West Nile Disease.
Topics discussed at the meeting ranged from Health Department inspections to the spraying of pesticides throughout Queens. On hand were representatives from the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), NY City Park Department (DOP), Department of Health (DOH), Department of Sanitation (DOS), NY State Department of Parks, and the Gateway National Recreation Area.
The Borough President’s spokesperson, Dan Andrews, told the Tribune, that inspection of catch basins for standing water is underway, and will be marked following inspection. Application of larvicide to catch basins identified with standing water will begin in early June 2002.
Based on data, it has been determined that the larviciding of catch basin in May is too early. DOH spokesperson, Lillie Farrell, said the agency is considering updating the application due to the April heat wave. Notice to communities will be issued if the dates are changed.
The DEC has issued a series of nine permits to DOH to allow for the application of larvicides as a preventative measure to address mosquito larvae and adulticides, if necessary, to address adult mosquitoes, Andrews said.
Andrews said the city’s Department of Environmental Protection will have 114 mosquito magnets in place at its water pollution treatment plants. Fish will also be used to eat mosquitoes, and the DOH is coordinating its efforts with the National Park Service.
— Liz Goff
What You Need To Know About West Nile?
Q: What is West Nile virus?
A: West Nile is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord).
Q: How is West Nile virus spread?
A: West Nile virus is spread to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. A mosquito becomes infected by biting a bird that carries the virus. You or your child cannot get West Nile virus from a person who has the disease. West Nile virus is not spread by person-to-person contact such as touching, kissing, or caring for someone who is infected.
Q: Are older adults more at risk for West Nile viral disease?
A: Yes. While the chance of anyone becoming infected with West Nile virus is very low, most cases in New York City have occurred in people older than 50. People in this age group, especially the elderly, are also more likely to develop severe diseases, such as encephalitis or meningitis, if they become infected.
Q: Where did West Nile virus come from?
A: Outbreaks of West Nile viral disease have occurred in Africa, Egypt, Israel, Asia, Romania, Russia and France. Before 1999, however, West Nile virus had never before been found in the Americas. The most likely explanation for its appearance is that the virus was introduced by an infected bird that was imported or an infected person returning from a country where the virus is common.
Q: Can you get West Nile virus directly from birds?
A: There is currently no evidence that West Nile virus can be spread directly from birds to people. However, dead birds can carry a variety of diseases and, therefore, should never be handled with bare hands. Use gloves to carefully place dead birds in double-plastic bags and then place in the outdoor trash.
Q: Besides mosquitoes, can you get West Nile virus directly from other insects or ticks?
A: Infected mosquitoes are the primary source of West Nile virus and caused the recent outbreaks in NYC. There is no evidence to suggest that ticks or other insects transmit West Nile virus.
Q: What are the symptoms of West Nile viral infection?
A: Most people who are infected with West Nile virus either have no symptoms or experience mild illness such as a fever, headache and body aches before fully recovering. Some persons also develop a mild rash or swollen lymph glands. In some individuals, particularly the elderly, West Nile virus can cause serious disease that affects brain tissue. At its most serious, it can cause permanent neurological damage and can be fatal. Symptoms of encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) include the rapid onset of severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, confusion, loss of consciousness (coma), or muscle weakness, and may be fatal.
Q: Is a woman’s pregnancy at risk if she gets West Nile virus?
A: There is no documented evidence that a pregnant woman or her fetus are at increased risk due to infection with West Nile virus.
Q: How is West Nile encephalitis treated?
A: There is no specific therapy. In more severe cases, intensive supportive therapy is indicated, i.e., hospitalization, intravenous (IV) fluids and nutrition, airway management, ventilatory support (ventilator) if needed, prevention of secondary infections (pneumonia, urinary tract, etc.), and good nursing care.
Q: Is there a vaccine against West Nile virus?
A: A vaccine for humans against West Nile virus does not exist.
Q: How long does it take to get sick if bitten by an infected mosquito?
A: Being bitten by an infected mosquito will not necessarily make you sick. Most people who are infected with West Nile virus have no symptoms or experience only mild illness. If illness were to occur, it would occur within 3 to15 days of being bitten by an infected mosquito.
Q: What should I do if I think I have West Nile encephalitis?
A:If you develop signs of encephalitis, with fever, muscle weakness, and confusion, you should seek medical care immediately.
Q: What can I do to reduce my risk of becoming infected with West Nile virus?
A: From April to October, when mosquitoes are most active, take the following precautions:
• If outside from dusk to dawn when mosquitoes are most active, or during the day in an area where there are weeds, tall grass, or bushes, people should wear protective clothing, such as long pants, loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts, and socks, and consider the use of an insect repellent containing DEET.
• DEET is effective for approximately 4 hours. Avoid prolonged or excessive use of DEET. Use sparingly to cover exposed skin and clothing. Do not apply to skin covered by clothing.
Q: What can I do around my home to help reduce exposure to mosquitoes?
A: Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing or slow-moving (such as streams or creeks) water. Weeds, tall grass, and bushes provide an outdoor home for mosquitoes. They can enter homes through unscreened windows or doors, or broken screens.
• Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs. If not in use, keep empty and covered.
• Drain water from pool covers.
• Change the water in bird baths every 3 to 4 days.
• Eliminate any standing water that collects on your property.
Q: What is the City doing to address the problem of West Nile virus?
A: The New York City Department of Health, along with other City, State and federal agencies, has developed a comprehensive plan to reduce the risk of illness due to West Nile virus in 2001. The main goal of this plan is to decrease the number of adult mosquitoes by eliminating their breeding sites wherever possible, and applying larvicides (to kill the immature larval form of the mosquito) to areas with stagnant water that cannot be drained completely.
Q: Is the City planning to apply pesticides as was done previously?
A: If West Nile virus is detected in the community, the City’s initial response will be to intensify its efforts to reduce mosquito breeding sites and increase its levels of larviciding in those areas in which West Nile virus has been found.
Q: What health risks are posed to people and pets from pesticides for adult mosquitoes?
A: If pesticides are sprayed to control adult mosquitoes, the products that will be applied will be used according to guidelines set by the EPA and the NYSDEC. In the small amounts used, risks to people and pets are relatively low. Persons directly exposed to these pesticides may experience short term eye or throat irritation or rash. There could be an odor associated with pesticides, but it will pass in a few hours. Anyone experiencing persistent or significant adverse reactions to pesticides should seek medical care or call the NYC Poison Control Center at (212) POISONS or (212) 764-7667.
Q: Will the public be notified in advance about spraying activities?
A: If spraying becomes necessary, residents can learn about schedules in advance of spraying activities through public service radio and television announcements, newspapers, the City’s Web site (nyc.gov/health), and the West Nile Virus Information Line at 1-877-WNV-4NYC (1-877-968-4642).
Q: If the City sprays pesticides for adult mosquitoes, what should I do during the spraying?
• Some individuals are sensitive to pesticides. Persons with asthma or other respiratory conditions are especially encouraged to stay inside during spraying since there is a possibility that spraying could worsen those conditions.
• Air conditioners may remain on. But if you wish to reduce the possibility of exposure to pesticides, set the air conditioner vent to the closed position, or choose the recirculate function.
• Wash skin and clothing exposed to pesticides with soap and water.
• Anyone experiencing adverse reactions to pesticides should seek medical care or call the NYC Poison Control Center at (212) POISONS or (212) 764-7667.
Q: If I live in an area where birds or mosquitoes with West Nile virus have been reported, and I am bitten by a mosquito, am I likely to get sick?
A: Evidence indicates that the chance of human infection and illness resulting from West Nile virus is very low. People older than 50, especially the elderly, are those most likely to get seriously ill if they become infected, and should, therefore, take the greatest care to prevent exposure to mosquito bites.
Q: I’ve gotten a mosquito bite. Should I be tested for West Nile virus?
A: No. Illnesses related to mosquito bites are still uncommon. However, you should see a doctor immediately if you develop symptoms such as high fever, confusion, muscle weakness, severe headaches, stiff neck, or if your eyes become sensitive to light.
Q: Should I report dead birds to the Health Department?
A:The New York City Department of Health encourages New York City residents to report all dead bird sightings within NYC, especially crows and blue jays.
For more information about West Nile virus, call the New York City Department of Health West Nile Information Line, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at (877) WNV-4NYC or (877) 968-4692.
— Information provided by the New York City Dept. of Health.