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West Nile virus absent from local area, health officials say

August 28, 2012
By ARTHUR CLEVELAND , The Leader Herald

The state is reporting an increase in cases of West Nile virus in some counties, but so far, Fulton, Montgomery and Hamilton counties are seeing no signs of the virus this year.

New York State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah stated that a man in Onondaga County died Aug. 20 of West Nile. To date, 11 human cases of West Nile has been reported in New York state, with five in New York City.

Shah said that to date this year, a total of 714 mosquito pools have tested positive for West Nile across the state. These counties include 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).

Denise Frederick, director of Fulton County Department of Health, said she has seen no cases of bird or human West Nile virus in Fulton County, but she was unsure if Fulton County would be free of the virus.

"I can't predict that. We had West Nile virus-positive birds in the past, but so have other counties," Frederick said.

According to Frederick, no human case has ever been reported in Fulton County, but birds with the virus were found as recently as two or three years ago. Frederick said if a case were to be found, surveillance would be increased and physicians would be alerted.

Frederick said West Nile is difficult to determine in humans without lab testing due to similar symptoms with other viral pathogens.

Kim Conboy, director for Montgomery County Public Health Department, said she is unaware of any humans or birds carrying West Nile in Montgomery County. However, she said that with the increases in statewide cases, there is a chance the virus could appear in Montgomery County.

"It is not clear why we are seeing more virus activity in recent years; however, people should continue to be vigilant in their personal protection measures regardless. This is the key to safeguard against these viruses," Conboy said.

Jill Barra, public health supervisor for Hamilton County, said West Nile was usually not an issue for her county. She stated she does not remember a case of it ever occurring in her county.

"We just don't have it here," Barra said.

Barra said that many of the cases reported in New York state are down near Long Island and southern counties. Barra said the majority of mosquitoes do not carry West Nile.

Sue Kiernan, vice president of development at Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville, stated that any cases that would be discovered by physicians at the hospital would be reported directly to Fulton County Department of Health.

According to Laura C. Harrington, an expert on mosquito-borne diseases and an associate professor of entomology at Cornell University, late August is usually a time when the number of human cases starts to escalate.

"This annual trend is most likely due to gradual amplification of the virus over the course of the summer in bird populations, leading to increases in the number of infectious mosquitoes. As a consequence, we are likely only at the beginning of a significant upward trajectory in human cases," Harrington said in a news release.

Harrington also stated with this year's hot temperatures, the speed of viral replication was increased, leading to an earlier and greater number of human cases and virus-carrying mosquitos.

"With no vaccine and no specific treatment for West Nile virus, the best prevention is to minimize exposure to mosquito bites," Harrington said.

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 people infected with the West Nile virus will experience more severe cases of the disease, according to the state Department of Health.

In 2011, there were 44 cases of West Nile virus, two of which were fatal. The fatal cases of West Nile occurred in Nassau County and the Borough of Queens, the state Department of Health reported.

New Yorkers are urged to dispose of used tires, tin cans, or simular containers where water collects, drill holes in the bottoms of recycling containers kept outside, clean and chlorinate swimming pools, and make sure to not leave standing water out, in case it may become infested with mosquitos. The Federal Center for Disease Control also suggests applying insect repellent containing DEET, Picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus, the state Department of Health said.

Arthur Cleveland can be reached at



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