As West Nile Virus Arrives, State Health Commissioner Urges New Yorkers to Take Precautions against Mosquito Bites

First detection of 2014 in mosquitoes reported

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 24, 2014) – The presence of West Nile virus has been confirmed in a mosquito pool in Rockland County, prompting New York State Acting Commissioner of Health Howard A. Zucker, M.D., J.D., to urge all New Yorkers to take personal protective measures to avoid mosquito bites.

"Although we partner with local health departments to help reduce the public's risk of exposure to mosquito-borne illness sources, with West Nile virus circulating, it is important to take extra precautions," Acting Commissioner Zucker said. "A few basic actions can greatly reduce the risk of getting mosquito bites that could cause serious illness such as West Nile virus and eastern equine encephalitis virus."

The Rockland County mosquito pool is the first to have tested positive for West Nile virus in 2014 throughout the state. In 2013, 589 mosquito pools tested positive statewide. To date, there have been no reported human cases. In 2013, there were 33 reported human cases of West Nile virus statewide and no deaths. In 2012, there were 107 reported human cases of West Nile virus and nine deaths.

"Based on many factors, we know the number of West Nile virus cases may vary from year to year, but the potential for serious illness never does," said Bryon Backenson, director of the Department's Investigations and Vector Surveillance Units. "That is why it is essential to take steps to avoid potentially harmful mosquito bites."

To greatly minimize exposure to West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus, the New York State Department of Health (DOH) recommends people take precautionary measures such as wearing shoes, socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt when outdoors for a long period of time. People are also advised to apply appropriate mosquito repellent and to remove all standing water from property.

West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne infection that can cause serious illness and occasionally death. Many people who contract West Nile virus do not experience any type of illness; an estimated 20 percent of people who become infected will develop mild symptoms including fever, headache and body aches, and possibly a skin rash or swollen lymph glands. Severe infection (West Nile encephalitis or meningitis) causes symptoms such as high fever, neck stiffness, muscle weakness, headaches, stupor, disorientation, tremors, convulsions, paralysis and coma. It is estimated that one in 150 persons infected with the West Nile virus will experience more severe cases of the disease.

Eastern equine encephalitis is a rare but serious viral disease spread by mosquitoes that can affect people and horses. People of all ages are at risk for infection with the EEE virus, but people over age 50 and younger than age 15 are at greatest risk for developing severe disease. Most people bitten by an infected mosquito will not develop any symptoms. Severe cases of EEE infection begin with the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills and vomiting. The illness may then progress into disorientation, seizures, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and coma. Approximately a third of patients who develop EEE die. Many patients who survive EEE infection experience mild to severe brain damage.

Eastern equine encephalitis virus has not been detected in any mosquito samples tested to date this year, and there have been no human cases. There were no reported human cases last year, but there have been three confirmed deaths from the disease in New York in the past five years.

There is no commercially available human vaccine for either West Nile virus or EEE. The best way to protect yourself is to keep mosquitoes from biting you.

To protect against mosquito bites and potential exposure to West Nile virus and EEE, DOH and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend applying insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Individuals should always follow the label directions when using insect repellents. People are also advised to take steps to reduce the number of mosquitoes around a home or property, including eliminating standing water in yards.

In addition, New Yorkers are urged to:

  • Dispose of used tires, tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar containers in which water collects.
  • Drill holes in the bottoms of recycling containers that are kept outdoors. Make sure roof gutters drain properly and clean clogged gutters in the spring and fall.
  • Turn over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use and change the water in bird baths twice a week.
  • Clean vegetation and debris from the edges of ponds.
  • Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs, and drain water from pool covers.

For more information on West Nile virus visit:

For more information on eastern equine encephalitis virus visit: