The West Nile Virus was first discovered in an adult woman in the West Nile district of Uganda in 1937. During an outbreak in Israel in 1957, the virus became recognized as a cause of severe human meningoencephalitis (inflammation of the spinal cord and brain) in elderly patients. During the 1960s in Egypt and France, the virus was detected in horses. It first appeared in North America in 1999.
That year, 62 confirmed cases of encephalitis were traced to the West Nile Virus, including seven deaths. Last year, there were 14 confirmed cases and only one death. Most people infected with the virus suffer from flu-like conditions; however, symptoms can be so mild that people do not realize they have been infected. West Nile can be fatal for elderly persons or those with a weakened immune system. Currently, there is no specific treatment, but if encephalitis progresses, hospitalization and supportive treatment are necessary.
Research indicates that during the months of August and September, the risk of human illness from West Nile Virus increases. The virus must amplify through a cycle of infection that includes mosquitoes, birds and small mammals before it reaches a level that poses a human health threat. By intervening now to clean up standing water where mosquitoes breed, and continuing these prevention strategies throughout the spring and summer, individuals can dramatically reduce the human health threat.
What you can do to protect yourself:
* Dispose of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots and similar water-holding containers around your property.
* Remove all discarded tires on your property. Used tires are the most common mosquito breeding ground.
* Drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers that are kept outdoors.
* Make sure gutters drain properly, and clean clogged gutters in the spring and fall.
* Turn over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use.
* Change the water in bird baths.
* Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs.
* Drain water from pool covers.
* Use landscaping to eliminate stagnant water that collects on your property.
* Clean up leaf litter and similar organic debris.
The 2001 West Nile Virus Response Plan is posted on the NYS Department of Health website at www.health.state.ny.us/nysdoh/westnile/index.htm.