Your Survival Guide To
By Tamara Hartman & Stephen McGuire
As the Tribune went to press and more helicopters
passed over Queens roofs to spray insecticide on the borough at night, three people were
dead, 48 people were sick, and nine people knew for sure that they were suffering from St.
It is a confusing disease carried by mosquitoes that the
City Department of Health believes were breeding in College Point. Some people
those who are younger and very healthy may only suffer flu-like symptoms or never
even know they have it. Others more advanced in years or susceptible to disease
could lapse into comas or die.
Insecticide being fogged into the streets of
Whitestone by truck in the early morning hours of Sept. 4.
And for every case that gets attention,
there will be between 200 and a 1,000 more that will go untreated, according to Dr. Rick
Conetta, director of Critical Care Medicine at Flushing Hospital and one of the doctors
who first caught the disease. Conetta said it is standard to estimate population
infections by multiplying with these figures.
For Queens, it means that if 48 possible cases are being
treated, there could be between 9,000 and 48,000 people infected . . . and most of them
will probably never get sick. Others will have to wait 4-14 days for symptoms to appear.
What is Encephalitis?
St. Louis Encephalitis (SLE) is a mosquito-borne viral
disease that causes inflammation of the brain. In an average year, Florida has from one to
10 cases of SLE, however, in recent years Florida, Texas and California have fought
New York City has never had a confirmed case before,
according to Conetta.
The Mayor warns of the danger
at a College Point press conference.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms can be flu like, but the key is a high and
prolonged fever without coughing or other cold symptoms, Flushing Hospital doctors said.
The initial patients treated by Conetta, Dr. Deborah Asnis, Dr. Jeffrey Appelbaum and Dr.
Robert Crupi at Flushing led to the diagnosis of SLE. Conetta said that anyone with a high
fever, headaches, nausea, diarrhea and tiredness or muscle fatigue would do well to
consult their physician.
Other symptoms can include vomiting, a stiff neck and back,
drowsiness , clumsiness, irritability.
Emergency symptoms can include loss of consciousness,
seizures, muscle weakness and paralysis, and sudden dementia or and memory loss.
Who is at risk?
Anyone who has been in contact with infected mosquitoes is
at risk for the disease. These mosquitoes breed only in stagnant, fresh water, however,
any pudle or bird bath can be a breeding ground.
The overwhelming majority of cases are being reported from
the Whitestone area, as well as College Point, Auburndale, Beechhurst, and Bayside.
However, cases can arise from any area where infected mosquitoes might be or might have
flown to, medical officials said.
SLE began to spread when Queens mosquitoes bit a bird
infected with the virus. As for the health of local birds, no comment was issued by the
City Health Department, who would be in charge of monitoring that situation according to
the Mayors Office of Emergency Management (OEM).
Workers load insecticide into a helicopter to be
sprayed over Queens.
What insecticides have been sprayed?
Malathion was sprayed from helicopters overhead and fogged
through neighborhood streets throughout the day on Sept. 4. According to the City Health
Department, an area roughly bounded by Flushing Bay and the Van Wyck Expwy to the west,
Utopia Pkwy to the east, the Long Island Expwy to the south and the Long Island Sound to
the north was sprayed by either fog truck or by air.
John Gadd, a spokesperson for the Health Department, said
that "every effort was made to notify the public" of the spraying before it
happened and pamphlets were issued in six different languages. Gadd added that the Health
Department, working in cooperation with the OEM, had contacted "community
groups" and other important organizations, however he could not provide information
on who had been contacted and when.
However, Beechhurst residents jogged through mists of the
insecticide in the early morning hours of Sept. 4 before receiving late morning warnings
to stay indoors during spraying. Stores closed down in the Bay Terrace shopping center to
send staff and customers home before nighttime spraying, yet on Bell Boulevard just
a few minutes away by car residents walked the sidewalks and enjoyed the open-air
feel of restaurants with their facades open to the street. Officials at New York Hospital
Medical Center of Queens and Flushing Hospital could not confirm that they had received
notification of spraying on Oct. 4.
The City is also doing ground spraying of VectoLex to kill
the mosquito larva.
What is malathion?
The federal Environmental Protection Agency described
malathion as a very mild pesticide designed for mosquito control. It is the mildest
organo-phosphate and works by disrupting the nervous system of the bug, EPA spokesperson
Nina Habib Spencer said. She added that it is commonly used in fighting mosquitoes
infected with encephalitis virus, however she could not comment on its use in Queens
because she was not familiar with the local specifics.
The use of malathion to control mosquito populations and
encephalitis in Florida have been disputed by local residents who questioned the safety of
the product that can be bought in any garden store. A bottle purchased at Keil Bros.
garden center in Bayside had the following "precautionary statements":
"Caution: harmful if swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed
through skin. Avoid breathing of spray mist or vapors. Avoid contact with skin. Wash
thoroughly after using. Avoid contamination of feed or foodstuff . . . . This pesticide is
toxic to fish, aquatic invertebrates, and aquatic life stages of amphibians. Do not apply
directly to water."
Donald Keil of Keil Bros. added that the garden center has
received numerous calls asking about malathions effect on garden vegetables. He
advises that in addition to carefully washing vegetables, residents should wait five to
seven days before eating them.
Where will insecticide be sprayed?
The Department of Health is determining areas that need to
be sprayed "based on several factors" according to Gadd but predominantly based
on what neighborhoods they see cases coming from.
During the night hours of Sept. 8, the Department of Health
ordered aerial spraying of "non-residential areas of Queens including Alley Pond
Park, Willow Park, Clearview Park and Golf Course, Fort Totten, Kissena Park and Golf
Course, Douglaston Park and Golf Course, the southern portion of Flushing Meadows, Cedar
Grove Cemetery, Mount Hebron Cemetery." The announcement was made following repeated
statements throughout the day that there would be no further aerial spraying in Queens.
OEM officials said they could not indicate at presstime if there would be more spraying in
Queens in the days ahead.
The City Health Department announcement added that to
ensure the safety of local public schools in the affected areas of Queens "localized
spraying will take place overnight and will continue each evening until the mosquito
population is eliminated."
How do you protect yourself?
At a quickly called a press conference held at the foot of
Powells Cove Park on Sept. 3, Mayor Rudy Giuliani urged area residents to remain
calm as he demonstrated how to apply insect repellent a method City health
officials are touting as one of several ways those in Northeast Queens can prevent being
infected by the rare bug-borne virus.
repellent was being distributed to northeast Queens residents at area firehouses beginning
late last week.
"This is not a moment for panic," added
Borough President Claire Shulman at the swampy Powells Cove Park where Health
officials believe many of the infectious mosquitoes were breeding.
City Commissioner of Health Dr. Neal Cohen, told residents
that the chances of being bitten by the mosquito which is scientifically classified
as the culex pipiens mosquitowere small.
Information being distributed by the City Health Department
told residents to:
Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and socks when
outdoors and use mosquito repellant on exposed skin.
Use insect repellants with no more than 30 percent
DEET, but use sparingly and with care. Products containing 15 percent or less DEET are
recommended for children but products containing DEET should not be used on infants.
Avoid unnecessary outdoor activity from dusk until
dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
Remove water from cans and jars, discarded tires,
clogged roof gutters, yard decorations or any other outdoor containers since mosquitoes
lay eggs in standing water.
Ensure that your home has tight-fitting screens over
windows and doors to keep mosquitoes from entering apartments and homes.
What about Shea, the USTA and LaGuardia Airport?
No aerial spraying was done at Shea Stadium or the USTA
center where the U.S. Open is ongoing.
According to Queens Chief of Operations for the Parks
Department Rich Murphy, the City Health Department inspected the park and informed the
Parks Department that there was no need for aerial spraying. They identified spots where
stagnant water should be removed, and that was done immediately Murphy said. Both the USTA
and Shea Stadium organizers advised guests to their stadiums about the situation and
offered easy access to bug repellent.
At LaGuardia airport, the Port Authority did their own
inspection for mosquitoes, according to Port Authority spokesperson Peter Yerkes. Though
they have had no problem with mosquitoes or infection with the disease, Yerkes added that
the Port Authority has decided independently to do ground spraying for mosquitoes as a
precaution. The spraying will begin Sept. 9 and continue for two to three days, depending
on what is found, Yerkes said.
Who is in charge?
The Mayors Office of Emergency Management is
coordinating and overseeing efforts to fight the mosquito populations and help control the
spread of the disease. However, the City Health Department is in charge of disseminating
information about new cases and fatalities and is also directing which areas of Queens
will be sprayed.
How did we find it?
Doctors at Flushing Hospital first put together the clues
that lead to the diagnosis.
During a press conference on Sept. 7, the doctors explained
that they now believe they have seen seven cases at their hospital . . . the first being
admitted on Aug. 12. Two of those patients an 87-year-old woman and a 80-year-old
man, died at the hospital. Their patients ranged in age from 29 to 87, with the most
recent suspected cases being a 29-year-old woman from Beechhurst who has already been
released and a 47-year-old man from Bayside admitted on Sept. 2.
Dr. Deborah Asnis, the chief of infectious diseases at the
Flushing Hospital and a former resident of Whitestone, stressed that the disease will
present itself differently in different age groups and that it includes a very wide range
of symptoms. She urged residents to check on elderly neighbors living alone and the team
of doctors at Flushing encouraged residents who believe they may be infected to seek the
advice of their doctor or go to their local hospital. Asnis attended both P.S. 193 and
J.H.S. 194 before her family moved from the Whitestone area and she expressed concern for
area seniors, adding that although children are also at high risk no pediatric cases have
been reported at Flushing Hospital at this time.
What are residents are saying?
Vicky Lanzelloto, a resident of 11 Ave. just across from
the marshy epicenter, claimed that the mosquito problem was nothing new to the area.
"I dont feel they flew here this past
week," said Lanzelloto who says that on any given night during the summer months she
kills up to 20 mosquitoes in her bedroom alone.
One area resident who requested his name to be withheld
said that he has grown accustomed to the area insect problem in recent years going as far
as to purchase mosquito netting for his childrens beds.
"This year has been the worst for mosquitoes," he
Two hundred and fifty City workers reportedly scrambled to
pass out literature and cans of insect repellent shortly before helicopters were sent on
missions to spray insecticide over areas suspected to be breeding grounds for the deadly
"We lost a ton of money, but its better off
losing money than lives," said Mike Brouse, manager at Applebees restaurant in
Bay Terrace which shut its doors around 3:30 p.m. on Saturday because of aerial spraying.
About half of the stores in the shopping complex closed,
according to Brouse.
"We were asked to vacate by 5 p.m.," said Brendan
who is the assistant manager at the Clearview Golf Course in Bayside where many golfers
ended their games early.
"People are very scared and very concerned," said
Marilyn Bitterman, district manager of Community Board 7.
Bitterman felt that if City officials had given board 7
advanced notice of the situation perhaps they could have aided in disseminating
information to the public.
The district manager expressed concern for area residents
whose blocks may have been sprayed with pesticides before they had enough time to be
|How To Find Information
*The hotline number has been very responsive to neighborhood calls
and can offer the latest information on spraying and health concerns. The number is
On the internet, look for the City Health Department at
www.ci.nyc.us/html/doh; and for background information try www.healthanswers.com.
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