Source: HealthScout at WTEN, 26 Apr 2000 [edited]

"This virus is here, and we have to understand that it is not feasible to eliminate it from the Western Hemisphere," said Dr. Stephen Ostroff at a press conference in Atlanta today. Ostroff is associate director for Epidemiologic Sciences at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "What we have in place is the kind of control measures and monitoring efforts that we hope will go a long way in reducing the threat." 

West Nile virus appeared the first time in North America last summer in the New York City area when bites from infected mosquitoes wound up killing birds and giving people the disease. By the time the outbreak was over, 7 people died and another 54 people were sickened. Between 5000 and 10 000 crows and nine horses also died from the virus. 

Now CDC officials say the viral strain found in America is closely related to a virus "circulating in Israel since 1997. We suspect that someone who traveled to Israel may have brought the virus to this country, but we are not really sure its exact route of entry," Ostroff explained. 

"There is no ... evidence that the virus has spread," said Dr. Randy Crom, West Nile virus coordinator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Last year we only found one infected bird outside of the 75 square miles of the New York metropolitan area, and that was in Baltimore." Crom says that the migratory patterns of birds make it likely that if the disease does spread, it will be found in states on the Atlantic or Gulf coasts. 

Ostroff said a survey of the Whitehurst neighborhood in Queens, the part of New York City where most of the [encephalitis] cases were concentrated, confirmed that West Nile virus causes a relatively mild infection. "We took blood samples in this neighborhood, and that showed about 2.5 percent of the population had evidence of infection. But for every case of encephalitis that we confirmed, there were 50 cases where people [had been infected and] had no symptoms whatsoever." 

Dr. Laura Fisher, an infectious disease specialist at the Weill Cornell Medical Center of New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, says that most people recover completely after they are infected. "You get some fever, some body aches, and that's really it," she says. "The bottom line on this disease is that of the 61 cases reported in this geographic area, the 7 who died were mostly elderly, and they tended to have some other underlying illness," Fisher says. "For most people who get infected, there
are absolutely no symptoms." 

Both Ostroff and Fisher urged the public to do their part to contain both the virus and mosquitoes. "Make sure that you turn over basins, empty your gutters, check abandoned tires and dump out stagnant water in bird baths." Fisher advised. "And if you're not using the swimming pool, either drain it completely or use chlorine. Don't go outdoors if there is a heavy load of mosquitoes or if you are going to go outside apply an insect repellent like DEET sparingly to exposed skin and spray it on clothing, as well."

[Byline: Neil Sherman]

The End.