West Nile Virus Found
In Mosquitoes Wintering
In New York
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Traces of the West Nile encephalitis virus blamed for seven deaths in the New York City area in 1999 have been found in mosquitoes wintering in the area, federal health officials said Thursday.
Low, but detectable levels of West Nile viral ribonucleic acid (RNA) were found in mosquitoes in three of 69 samples collected by health workers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.
Researchers said it was unclear if tests that found the genetic material portend a return of West Nile virus in the New York area in the spring.
The samples were taken from various buildings and from storm sewers and sewage treatment plants in the New York area. All of the mosquitoes with West Nile RNA were found at Fort Totten in northeastern Queens.
"We don't fully understand the implications of that finding," said Dr. Steven Ostroff of the CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases.
The CDC said the findings could be misleading because the test used to detect West Nile virus RNA, while believed to be very sensitive, is new and experimental.
The virus caused 62 cases of encephalitis in the New York City area in the 1999 summer and autumn, Ostroff said. Seven people died, including a Canadian who contracted the disease while visiting New York City.
New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Neal Cohen said the city was working with the state, the CDC and others to proceed with its plan to prevent more cases of West Nile virus.
"With mosquito activity, including overwintering activity, being very low during the colder weather, the CDC and the City Health Department maintain that it is not necessary for individuals to take personal precautions against mosquitoes at this time," Cohen said.
Cohen said the city, as part of its overall plan, will eliminate mosquito breeding areas and spray larvicides, particularly in the areas most affected by the outbreak in 1999, such as the borough of Queens.
He also asked the public to help in the effort by cleaning clogged roof gutters, emptying or chlorinating unused swimming pools, changing water in bird baths weekly and discarding old tires and other receptacles for standing water that could be breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
The virus, which is carried by birds and transmitted via mosquito bites, is common in parts of Africa and Asia but was unknown in the Americas until 1999 when it appeared in the United States.
Earlier this year the CDC urged officials in coastal states from Massachusetts to Texas to test birds and mosquitoes for the virus and to take steps to control mosquito populations by eliminating breeding areas and applying larvicides.
The virus, which causes flu-like symptoms and sometimes inflammation of the brain, was also blamed for the deaths of hundreds of crows in the northeastern United States. West Nile infection was also found in several horses and domestic animals.
ATLANTA ( - Government researchers have found that some mosquitoes hibernating in New York City this winter probably are carrying the West Nile virus, which killed seven people in the area last summer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that mosquitoes collected at three of 69 sites in January and February had genetic material indicating the presence of the virus.
Several thousand mosquitoes were tested. The virus itself was not detected in the three samples - numbering several dozen mosquitoes - but extremely sensitive testing found its genetic source.
The CDC said it is unclear whether the virus will persist or pose a health hazard in the spring and summer, when mosquitoes are active.
"The bottom line here would be that we're not entirely certain what it means," said Dr. Stephen Ostroff, associate director of the CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases.
In addition to the seven deaths, dozens more were infected by the virus, which can cause encephalitis, a dangerous swelling of the brain. People with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk.
West Nile symptoms resemble severe flu, with fever often accompanied by poor muscle control or mental disorientation.


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