A New Virus Name &
By STEPHEN McGUIRE & TAMARA HARTMAN
Over a month after City officials first descended upon
Powells Cove in College Point to alert the City about a potentially deadly disease
carried by mosquitoes and mounted an aggressive insecticide spraying campaign, questions
about the disease still linger and health officials with needles are knocking on doors
searching for some answers.
Some Queens residents are upset over how
the city has handled the mosquito crisis so far.
As of the Health Dept.s Oct. 3 update, 38 cases
of "West Nile-like virus" have been confirmed by the CDC, 166 cases are under
investigation and four Queens people are dead. The most recently confirmed case was a
71-year-old Jackson Heights man who has already been discharged from the hospital.
Of the 38 positive cases, 29 are age 60 or over, three are
in their 50s, and the remaining six were 5, 15, 29, 32, 28 and 40-years old. All of the
reported deaths have been among the more senior patients.
Same Old Disease With A New Virus Name
The U.S. Center for Disease Control has confirmed that the
disease being fought in Queens and now spreading as far as Nassau and Westchester is not
caused by the St. Louis virus, as first reported, but by the West Nile virus.
The West-Nile virus is usually only found Africa, Asia and
the Middle East, Dr. Deborah Asnis, director of infectious diseases at Flushing Hospital
and part of the team of doctors who first uncovered the illness in Queens.
Demonstrators gather in front of Borough
Hall recently to protest the spraying of malathion in Queens.
Asnis explained that West-Nile is a
"quasi-virus," and just like the St. Louis virus, it can cause diseases as
serious as encephalitis, the lesser evil of meningitis which also causes swelling of the
brain, flu-like symptoms, or no illness at all. The virus is contracted in the same way
that the St. Louis virus is contracted and the same precautions regarding mosquitoes
There is also no specific treatment for West Nile virus
encephalitis, Asnis added, but just as in St. Louis Encephalitis (SLE), patients are kept
nourished and hydrated to ride out the storm. Asnis said the mistake in virus
identification was probably due to the fact that usually, when encephalitis occurs in
North America, it is the SLE variety. Only when dead crows were discovered and tested was
the West Nile virus distinctly found.
Asnis, who herself is originally from Whitestone which is
one of the neighborhoods being described as "ground zero" for the outbreak,
added that Flushing Hospital is not seeing new confirmed cases of encephalitis from this
outbreak. She said her last case, which was confirmed, came into the hospital early in
September and although one addition case in pending, she said the hospital is not seeing a
flow of new sufferers.
However, the doctor added that she is seeing a flow of
patients reporting that they suffered from flu-like symptoms and high fevers in August,
which may have been due to the virus that was not yet identified at that time.
Test Knocking At Your Door
According to Health Dept., over the next two to three
weeks, officials will be conducting surveys at randomly selected homes in zip codes 11354,
11357 and 11358 the area where the outbreak was first discovered to
determine what percentage of people have been exposed to the West-Nile virus.
During these surveys, Health Dept. personnel and officials
from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control will be taking blood samples from people living
in Whitestone, Linden Hill, Murray Hill and Auburndale to determine if they were exposed
to the West-Nile virus.
"Blood samples will be tested for anti-bodies to the
West-Nile like virus. The presence of anti-bodies would indicate that a person was
infected by the virus, but did not and will not necessarily become sick," said Dr.
Neil Cohen, commissioner of the Health Dept.
Cohen added that the presence of anti-bodies will help the
Dept. of Health find out who is most at risk for becoming sick once exposed, and how
exposure to the virus and illness may be prevented.
Currently, the only known information about the virus has
come from hospitalized patients thought to have contracted mosquito borne St. Louis
Health Dept. officials warned that local residents should
request official identification before opening their doors to anyone claiming to be a part
of the testing process.
In an effort to keep the survey random and anonymous,
Health Dept. and CDC officials will not be asking those they test for information such as
name and address.
Therefore, health officials said those surveyed will not be
able to get back results of their blood test and the laboratory will not be able to find
out who the sample came from.
To notify area residents about the testing, the Health
Dept. has enlisted the help of Community Board 7, according to District Manager Marilyn
Bitterman who spent time over the Oct 2 weekend handing out leaflets at homes and bus
stops in and around the test areas.
John Gadd, a spokesperson for the Dept. of Health told the
Tribune that the testing will be done to determine what percentage of the population was
exposed to the virus, what age groups were affected and what the symptoms were and the
results will be released at some undisclosed future time.
Spray Dismay & Protests
"The community wants to know and deserves to
know," said Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin about the questions surrounding the use of
pesticides like malathion in the Citys war against West-Nile carrying mosquitoes.
McLaughlin has filed an official request with Speaker
Sheldon Silver for a joint meeting of the Assembly Health and Environment commissions in
an effort to determine whether malathion should be used in future efforts to combat
McLaughlin called for the meeting in an effort to find
answers to questions being posed by concerned residents of his district which is at the
epicenter of the West-Nile crisis.
David Levner, chairman of the Queens County Green Party,
the group which is heading up weekly demonstrations at Queens Borough Hall, said "The
indiscriminate spraying of New York City with pesticides is much worse than the problem it
is intended to cure," said David Levner, chairman of the Queens County Green Party,
the group which headed up the demonstration.
Members of the Green Party and the Citizens Action
Committee for Change (CACC), a Bayside based civic group, cited unanswered questions about
the levels of concentration of Malathion among the reasons behind the protest.
"It is unthinkable that the mayor can order Malathion
indiscriminately without a city, state or federal agency testing the air for safe
concentration levels, what carrier agent is used to dilute the pesticide, and using air
sampling measurement tests to ensure there are public health safeguards," said Joyce
Shephard, president of the CACC group.
Behind the uproar of protestors is what they are calling a
"terrible" job of informing the public about the malathion spraying.
A Green Party statement, said that "Many people have
been sprayed needlessly because they did not know the spraying schedule or because they
were unaware of the dangers of pesticides.
According to a statement issued by the New York Public
Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) recently, malathion, although it is one of the less
acutely poisonous incesticides in its class, can cause respiratory distress,
headaches, diziness, nausea and even more serious symptoms.
According to NYPIRG, malathion was the second leading cause
of hospitalization for occupational pesticide poisoning between 1977 and 1982.
Q & A On West Nile Virus
What is West Nile Fever?
West Nile Fever (WNF) is a mosquito-borne disease that can
cause encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain. It is caused by the West Nile Virus,
named after the West Nile district of Uganda where the virus was first isolated in 1937.
The viruses that cause West Nile Fever and St. Louis Encephalitis come from the same
family of flaviviruses, and cause diseases that are similar to one another, West Nile-like
virus, like St. Louis Encephalitis, is spread to humans by the bite of infected
mosquitoes. A mosquito becomes infected by biting a bird which carries the virus. WNF is
not spread by person-to-person contact, or directly from birds to persons.
What measures are being taken to protect the
Fortunately, New York City has implemented an aggressive
mosquito control strategy in response to this outbreak, including mosquito surveillance,
testing, and aerial and ground spraying activities. Malathion and a pyrethroid-based
insecticide are being used to reduce the mosquito population and prevent the transmission
of mosquito-borne viruses. In addition, the New York City Department of Health is working
with hospitals and doctors throughout the City to find and investigate possible cases of
encephalitis that may be due to West Nile-like virus.
Where did this West Nile-like virus come from?
West Nile Fever is a disease that occurred before in Egypt,
Asia, Israel, South Africa, and parts of Europe. It has never before been found in the
Western Hemisphere. The New York City Department of Health, the State Health Department,
and the CDC, are currently investigating how the West Nile-like virus got into New York
What are the symptoms of West Nile Fever?
The symptoms of West Nile virus infection are very similar
to those of St. Louis Encephalitis virus. Most people who are infected have no symptoms or
may experience mild illness such as fever and headache before fully recovering. In some
individuals, particularly the elderly, West Nile Fever can be a serious disease that
affects the central nervous systems. At its most serious, it can cause permanent
neurological damage and can be fatal. Symptoms generally occur five to 15 days following
the bite of an infected mosquito, and range from a slight fever and headache to a high
fever, stiff neck, disorientation, sensitivity to light, muscle weakness, and death.
Ive gotten a mosquito bite. Should I be
West Nile-like virus?
No. Most mosquitoes are not infected with the West
Nile-like virus. Illnesses related to mosquito bites are rare, especially in New York
City. However, you should see a doctor immediately if you develop such symptoms as high
fever, confusion, muscle weakness, severe headache, or sensitivity to light. Patients with
mild symptoms are likely to recover completely, and do not require any specific medication
or laboratory testing.
How can I prevent being infected with the West
The best way to prevent infection with West Nile-like virus
is to avoid getting mosquito bites. The New York City Department of Health recommends that
you take the following precautions:
Use insect repellants with no more than 30 percent
DEET. Use 15 percent or less DEET for children. Do not use DEET on infants.
If you are outdoors, wear protective clothing such
as long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and socks.
Empty water from outside objects such as bird baths,
old tires an any containers in which water accumulates and where mosquitoes may breed.
Make sure that door- and window-screens do not have
Where do I call if I need more information on West
Call the Mayors Office of Emergency Management Hotline at 1-888-663-6692 for more
information on the West Nile-like virus.