West Nile Virus
Detected in County
By Matthew Youngfrau
MONTICELLO August 15, 2000 After weeks of anticipation (or, more accurately, dread), the first case of the West Nile Virus was found in Sullivan County last week.
The virus was discovered in a dead blue jay found in Yulan. The virus had already been discovered in Ulster and Orange counties.
The key here for the public is not to panic, Sullivan County Legislature Chairperson Rusty Pomeroy stated at the Executive Committee meeting on Thursday, where the discovery was announced. I met with [County Co-Managers] Richard [LaCondre] and Harvey [Smith], and were going over our options.
The virus is usually carried by mosquitos. For most people who contract the virus, they experience flu-like symptoms. It can be dangerous for the young, the elderly, and those with weak immune systems, but the legislature was quick to point out that only one human case was discovered this year in New York State.
Ever since the disease was discovered, many dead birds have been sent to the state Department of Health. In fact, the DOH is receiving about 100 birds a week to test. The infected blue jay was sent to the DOH on July 26.
A total of 12 birds have been sent in from Sullivan County. Besides the one positive bird, eight have come back negative, and the test results on the last three are still pending. The bird that tested positive was indigenous to the area. Officials suspect it was bitten by a mosquito.
Earlier in the day, before the discovery was announced, the virus was discussed at length during the Health and Family Services Committee meeting.
Health and Family Services Commissioner Judith Maier gave a detailed report on what steps have been taken, reporting that the county was ready if West Nile was discovered within its borders.
After the discovery in Yulan, the county was moved up to Level Three of a four-tier state-created response system. Level Three includes an active public education campaign and keeping a surveillance of area birds.
Health and Family Services Committee Chairperson Leni Binder pointed out that Lyme Disease is a bigger threat in this area than the West Nile Virus. She advised that no one should panic over either situation. The officials, however, did stress taking proper precautions, such as wearing clothing that covers most of the body and using bug spray as protection.
The county has such options as larvaecide and spraying to ward off the virus, although it would take seven days for the state to approve those kinds of measures. Mosquito larvae usually nest in storm drains and basins, and since there are approximately 2,400 basins in the county, officials would concentrate in those areas to destroy the nests.
Most legislators are against spraying. Binder is concerned because the spray may cause adverse health problems. Legislator Rodney Gaebel is worried over how it would affect local agriculture. They also feel the situation is not serious enough to warrant spraying.
The Executive Committee was recessed until Thursday, August 17 at 10 a.m. In the interim, the county will explore its options. (Besides discussing West Nile at that meeting, the mass gathering law and the county manager search will also be addressed.)
On August 11, a press release was sent out by New York Governor George Pataki stating that Pataki wrote President Clinton and asked for $20 million in emergency financial assistance. The release went on to say that the virus was found in 17 upstate counties: Albany, Broome, Columbia, Dutchess, Erie, Franklin, Niagara, Orange, Onondaga, Putnam, Rens-selaer, Schenectady, Sullivan, Ulster, Warren, Washington, and Yates.
And on Saturday, news reports out of New York City said that two more human cases of the West Nile Virus were discovered. That brings this years number up to three, and all are from Staten Island. Those infected were people aged 63, 64, and 78. All have recovered from the virus.