Cold weather and high winds are the latest culprits in delaying the spraying of a pesticide to kill mosquitoes carrying the potentially fatal West Nile encephalitis virus. The county will begin spraying when and if warmer weather returns.
Last weekend's scheduled sprayings were scratched when attorney Thomas Liotti pushed for an injunction against the planned aerial spraying of Anvil, a pesticide substitute for Malathion, a neuro-toxin. State Supreme Court Justice Leonard Austin ordered the county to prove its spraying efforts were legal Monday at 2 p.m. and stopped the county from conducting spraying before that time.
He did give permission for spraying to commence later that night. But plans to begin spraying on Tuesday over central Long Island were halted due to cold weather, and subsequent sprayings on Wednesday and Thursday were also canceled due to forecasted cold temperatures and high winds.
The cold weather is adverse to spraying because it is more difficult to calibrate the spray nozzles, and mosquitoes are usually not out during colder weather. The high winds make it more difficult to target the spray in one particular area.
Following the many delays in spraying, Nassau County Executive Thomas S. Gulotta announced that the insect repellent containing DEET will be available free of charge from local fire departments and other community sites.
Gulotta said, "The health and safety of our residents are paramount. The distribution of insect repellent is one more avenue of protection the county is pursuing to combat the potential threat of mosquito-borne disease."
Gulotta added, "I am grateful to the men and women of our volunteer fire departments and community organizations in working with the county to help protect our citizens."
The use of insect repellent containing DEET is recommended if individuals will be spending time outdoors in likely mosquito habitats. Individuals should minimize outdoor activities, wear long sleeves and pants if outside and remove any standing water in their yards including emptying birdbaths, other shallow containers and cleaning gutters to eliminate mosquito breeding places.
The following firehouses in the area will be giving out DEET. They ask that residents do not call since they are not staffed. However, each location will post distribution availability on their doors: Hicksville Fire Department Headquarters on Marie Street and Hicksville Road.
For further information about the disease or spraying, residents can call the Nassau County Health Department at 571-8707, 571-8708, or 573-7055 for more information or the State Health Department at 1-888-697-4234. Information is also available on the county's web site: www.co.nassau.ny.us.
A press release from the Hicksville School District stated that when and if the county sprays, the district will commence with a clean-up of all playground and picnic areas located on school property. Some school trips have already been postponed due the safety concerns for the children, and all other trips would be reveiwed on a case by case basis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Nile encephalitis is a flavivirus commonly found in Africa, West Asia and the Middle East and is transmitted by the bite of a mosquito, primarily the Culex species. The CDC website states, "Mosquitoes become infected by feeding on birds infected with the West Nile virus. Infected mosquitoes then transmit the West Nile virus to humans and animals when taking a bloodmeal. West Nile encephalitis is not transmitted from person-to-person. There is no evidence that a person can get the virus from handling live or dead infected birds. However, avoid bare-handed contact when handling dead animals, including dead birds. Use gloves or double plastic bags to place the carcass in a garbage can." Anyone who finds a dead bird that does not appear to have been injured is urged to contact the Nassau County Health Department at 571-8707.
The CDC also reports, "Infected mosquitoes are the primary vector for West Nile virus and the source of this outbreak. Ticks have been found infected with West Nile virus in Asia and Africa. Their role in the transmission and maintenance of the virus is uncertain. However, as it relates to the New York area outbreak, ticks have not been implicated as vectors of West Nile virus. It is not known how long West Nile virus has been in the U.S., but CDC scientists believe the virus has probably been in the eastern U.S. for several months, possibly longer. The virus found in New York is genetically related to West Nile virus, but because of genetic differences, it may be a new subtype of West Nile virus. Laboratory testing to confirm this continues. No cases have previously been reported in the U.S. prior to September 1999. No reliable estimates are available for the number of cases of West Nile encephalitis that occur internationally."
Previously, in other areas of the world, birds reportedly infected did not die from the disease, but here in New York the link between the deaths of birds and the disease seems clear. Until a freezing temperatures can kill off the mosquitoes, the threat of infection continues, despite efforts to spray and ward off mosquitoes with DEET. As all residents are at risk for becoming infected, concern remains high.
According to Marjorie Lazoff, M.D., medical editor for Medical Computing Today, encephalitis is "an inflammation of the brain parenchyma." Encephalitis "presents as a diffuse and/or focal neuropsychological dysfunction. From an epidemiological and pathophysiological perspective, it is distinct from meningitis although clinically the two often coexist with signs and symptoms of meningeal inflammation" she explains. Lazoff also explains, "Once across the blood brain barrier, the virus enters neural cells, with the resultant disruption in cell functioning, perivascular congestion, hemorrhage and inflammatory response diffusely affecting gray matter disproportionate to white matter."
Lazoff states, "The classic presentation is encephalopathy with diffuse or focal neurological symptoms including the following: behavioral and personality changes, decreased consciousness; stiff neck; photophobia; lethargy; generalized or localized seizures; acute confusion or amnestic states; less common and dramatic symptoms include headache and other complaints of meningismyms."
According to Kids Health Organization, "In infants it is harder to detect some of these symptoms, but there are still some important signs to look for: vomiting; a full or bulging 'soft spot' (fontanelle); and crying that doesn't stop (intractable crying)." They also explain that in addition to mosquito-borne forms of the virus, "milder forms of encephalitis can follow or accompany common childhood illnesses, including mumps, measles, chicken pox, and mononucleosis. For example, about one out of every 1,000 persons with measles will develop a measles encephalitis, which begins four to seven days after the measles rash appears."
KHO also reports, "Since antibiotics are not effective against viruses, they are not used to treat encephalitis. However, antiviral drugs, like acylovir, can be used to treat some forms of encephalitis, especially the type caused by the herpes simplex virus. Corticosteroids may also be used to reduce brain swelling. If your child has severe symptoms of encephalitis, your doctor will probably order blood tests and a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to remove some spinal fluid for testing. A special brain scan (an MRI or a CT scan) may also be necessary. After treatment for severe encephalitis, physical therapy or speech therapy is sometimes needed to help a child fully recover from the illness."
Parents should call their pediatricians, according to the Kids Health Organization, when "your child has any of the following symptoms: severe headache, convulsions (seizures), stiff neck, inability to look at bright lights, double vision, difficulty walking, problems with speech or hearing, difficulty moving an arm or leg, loss of sensation anywhere in the body, personality changes, problems in memory, extreme drowsiness, and loss of consciousness."
According to the CDC, "Case fatality rates" for West Nile virus specifically, "range from 3 percent to 15 percent (higher in elderly than in younger age groups). There is no specific therapy. Intensive support therapy is indicated for more severe cases. There is no documented evidence that a pregnancy is at risk due to infection with West Nile virus." The CDC reports that the incubation period is usually five to 15 days and the Kids Health Organization reports that the acute phase of the illness usually lasts from a few days to one week. Recovery usually takes about three weeks. Some cases require hospitalization.
Residents can call the Nassau County Health Department at 571-8707, 571-8708, or 573-7055 for more information or the State Health Department at 1-888-697-4234.