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Virus Still Lurks Near New York City

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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."

New York City Health Commissioner Neal L. Cohen, MD, has issued a statement saying the city's "prevention-focused efforts are very much on track." That includes citywide attempts to kill the eggs the hibernating adults will lay.

Gubler says there's also action to be taken on a community level. "It isn't strictly just the government's responsibility," he says. "People should be aware, they should clean up their backyards, get rid of any potential mosquito-breeding places. If they've got swimming pools, take good care of them. They should be aware of how to reduce the risk of mosquito bites and follow that .. they should definitely not be alarmed, but they should be aware."

Ultimately, Gubler says no one knows how resilient the WNV is going to be, they just know what it has done in the past in places like Africa and elsewhere. It's thought that the natural home for the virus is in the tropics, so when it appears in northern areas it usually hangs around for a year or two and then disappears. "So we really don't know how resilient it is, whether it's going to persist through the winter in the New York area. That's why [there's] the need for the intensified surveillance."

 

Vital Information:

  • The CDC reports it has found traces of the genetic building blocks of the West Nile Virus, after investigators searched pools of hibernating mosquitoes in New York. Last year, the virus killed seven elderly people and sickened many others there. No live virus has been found so far this year.
  • CDC specialists say the discovery does not surprise them, since the virus has been known to hibernate during winter months.
  • Officials say the virus usually emerges in the tropics. When it occurs in the North, it usually lasts for a year or two then disappears. The CDC doesn't know if this will happen in this case, and preventive measures are underway in New York, such as spraying to kill mosquito eggs.

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