2000-08-26 / Front Page

West Nile Hits Peninsula

West Nile Hits Peninsula

Dead Bird Tests Positive
By John C. McLoughlin

Ground spraying of pesticides was administered on the west end of the Rockaway peninsula earlier this week after a dead bird tested positive for West Nile Virus.

Officials from the New York City Department of Health found a dead American Kestril across from Fort Tilden in Rockaway Point the week of August 14, 2000. The bird tested positive for West Nile Virus, a mosquito-born virus that can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord). West Nile is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. In last year’s outbreak, most people who were infected with West Nile Virus had no symptoms or experienced mild illness such as fever, headache and body aches before fully recovering. In some individuals, particularly the elderly, West Nile Virus can cause serious disease that affects brain tissue and can cause permanent neurological damage.

This year, three individuals from Staten Island -- a 78-year-old male, a 64-year-old female, and a 63-year-old male -- were hospitalized because of illnesses related to West Nile Virus, but are now at home recovering.

The Health Department responded to the infected bird in Rockaway by providing ground spraying on Monday, August 21, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., in Breezy Point, Roxbury, Neponsit, Belle Harbor, Rockaway Park, and Seaside (west of Beach 95 street).

Dr. Neal Cohen, commissioner of the NYC Health Department, said, "With new evidence of West Nile Virus activity in areas of Queens not previously treated, we will expand our ground spraying activities…these activities are prompted by our surveillance systems which have enabled us to take all necessary actions to reduce the potential for additional human illnesses from West Nile Virus."

The one night of spraying covered a two-mile radius from where the bird was discovered. According to a Erich Giebelhaus, spokesperson for the Health Department, the spraying was done from the back of trucks and a crew with backpacks for "hard to reach" areas.

Anvil, a pyrethroid-based pesticide, was used for this effort. According to the NYC Health Department, it is "relatively nontoxic to humans and other mammals, and health risks associated with the use of pyrethroids in accordance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) guidelines are negligible." Even so, the NYC Health Department recommends that during the spraying the public avoid direct exposure to the pesticide -- staying indoors and closing windows and turning off air conditioners. Those with asthma, who can be especially sensitive to pesticides, are encouraged to stay inside during spraying.

Residents east of Beach 95 street are concerned that their neighborhoods have not been sprayed, since mosquitoes have been a continued nuisance. Giebelhaus noted that the Health Department has been mosquito testing in the Arverne, Edgemere and Far Rockaway area since spring and continues to "base spraying on surveillance findings." As of this time, there have been no mosquitoes or birds that tested positive for West Nile Virus on the east end of the peninsula.

The Health Department also is working with the National Park Service to address the threat of West Nile Virus in the area. According to Brian Feeney of the National Park Service, they did permit the city to spray Fort Tilden and Riis Park, but there has been no detection of the virus in the Jamaica Bay Unit of Gateway National Recreation Area.

"We are currently conferring with the National Park Service regarding the mosquito control measures that need to be taken in the environmentally sensitive areas of the Gateway National Park Recreation Center that are located in the two mile radius of this finding," Dr. Cohen said.

Since early summer, the National Park Service has taken steps at Fort Tilden, Riis Park and Floyd Bennett Field. Primary guidance for development of the mosquito program at Gateway was provided by the Center of Disease Control and the Biological Resource Division of the U.S. Geological Survey. Four areas of activity are contained in this plan:

  1. Elimination of breeding sites for the specific mosquitoes known to carry the West Nile Virus.
  2. Application of larvicides to areas that do not contain significant natural resources.
  3. Monitoring to detect the presence of the virus at the earliest possible stages of its spread.
  4. Response to the virus should it reappear.

Dr. Cohen is asking all residents to continue "mosquito-proofing" New York City by eliminating areas of standing water around their homes: Make sure roof gutters drain properly; Dispose of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots, or similar water-holding containers; Remove all discarded tires from property; Clean and chlorine swimming pools, outdoor saunas, and hot tubs (if not in use, keep empty and covered); Drain water from pool covers; and change water in bird baths once a week.

In addition, Dr. Cohen advises the public to take precautions against mosquitoes, including:

  1. If outside during evening, nighttime, and dawn hours when mosquitoes are most active and likely to bite, children and adults should wear protective clothing such as long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and socks.
  2. Consider the use of an insect repellant containing no more than 30 percent DEET for adults and 10 percent or less DEET for children. Use DEET according to manufacturer’s directions.
  3. Make sure that doors and windows have tight-fitting screens. Repair or replace screens that have tears or holes.

Spraying schedules are announced each day on WCBS Radio (880 AM) at 6:56 a.m. and 6:56 p.m., and at other times throughout the day. Several radio stations in New York City are also running public service announcements. New Yorkers can also find out about spraying plans through the media, by calling the West Nile Virus information line at 1-877-WNV-4NYC, by checking the NYC Health Department website at

www.nyc.gov/health, and by calling community boards and elected officials.

Reporting of dead birds or areas of standing water where mosquitoes breed can be made to the hotline at 1-877-WNV-4NYC. Anyone experiencing adverse reactions to spraying should call their doctor or the NYC Poison Control Center at 212-764-7667.

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