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Slumbering Virus to Awaken Again, Experts Say

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The good news is that the West Nile virus might not represent that significant of a threat to healthy Americans. In a survey conducted in New York City following last summer's outbreak, the CDC found that only about 2.5% of the entire population in the highest-risk area actually were infected, with the majority experiencing mild to moderate symptoms, Ostroff said.

Fearing a second outbreak, health authorities in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania have also already launched an aggressive campaign to attack contaminated mosquitoes before they mature into adults. The plan includes a public education campaign aimed at eliminating areas of standing water, where mosquitoes breed.

If the virus is detected, its spread can also be controlled through the spraying of pesticides, said Steve Johnson, a deputy director at the EPA. Although no pesticide is 100% safe, there are some such as resmethrin, sumethrin, and permethrin that can be used safely under controlled circumstances to kill adult mosquitoes, he said.

During the winter, added Barbara Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the CDC, more than $2.7 million was distributed to local health departments along the eastern seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico to assist in planning and implementing programs to control the spread. This assistance included the distribution of laboratory tests for the virus, Ostroff tells WebMD.

But despite these efforts and improved coordination between federal, state, and local health agencies, people should keep up their vigilance, Ostroff says. "We have no way of knowing how the virus will evolve," he tells WebMD.

Individuals can participate in the prevention effort by eliminating sources of stagnant water on their property. People also can protect themselves by applying insect repellant before going outside at dawn, dusk, and during the evening, the CDC says.

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