Virus Still Lurks Near New York City
March 9, 2000 (Atlanta) -- It's hard to forget the images of helicopters
crossing the New York sky like so many of the marauding mosquitoes they were
trying so hard to kill. Though there's no reason yet to believe the
pesticide-spraying machines need to return, there is cause for concern about a
resurgence of the West Nile virus they were trying to destroy.
The CDC has released a report stating that genetic traces of the virus have
been detected in pools of hibernating mosquitoes at Fort Totten in New York, an
area in Queens and just outside Manhattan. No live virus has been found yet,
but the RNA found is a building block of the virus, and of enough concern to
cause a flurry of news releases and press conferences to calm public
As part of an ongoing prevention campaign, the mosquitoes were pooled
together from areas in and around New York City based on locations of people
and mosquitoes infected with West Nile Virus (WNV) during the outbreak of the
disease last year. Seven people died then, and scores more were sickened by the
virus, which causes encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, in humans.
"Low but detectable levels" of WNV RNA were found in Fort Totten.
Duane Gubler, ScD, of the CDC tells WebMD he wasn't surprised by the findings,
but that "it will surprise us if we don't find [a live virus]."
Gubler says, "It's fairly typical of these kinds of viruses that they will
[hibernate] over winter."
Still, Gubler says this discovery "shouldn't be alarming. It's just
another wake-up call that these things happen."
Following the outbreak last year, the departments of health in New York City
and the state set up guidelines that included collecting the hibernating
mosquitoes in affected areas to test for the virus in order to see whether
another animal-borne outbreak like last year was in the making.
The WNV can be transmitted from mosquitoes to their offspring. If the
mosquitoes grow and the virus lives, the transmission cycle may begin again.
The mosquitoes bite birds, who then fly around, get bitten by more mosquitoes,
who then bite humans, and so on. For most people, the virus is harmless, but
for people over 50, and others whose immune system is weakened, WNV can be
lethal. All seven deaths last fall were among people over age 75.
It's not known how far the virus may have spread last fall. "We're
working with states from Massachusetts down the Atlantic and across the Gulf
states to intensify surveillance for this very purpose," Gubler tells
WebMD. "So what we've done is look at the bird migration patterns, [and] we
picked those states that go down the Atlantic coast and across the Gulf states
to Texas as high-priority states."