Keeping Safe From West Nile Virus


From the WebMD Archives

July 25, 2000 (New York) — Some simple precautions can help keep New Yorkers and others safe from the mosquito-borne West Nile virus, public health officials say.

On Monday, city officials shut down New York’s Central Park to spray it with pesticides after mosquitoes there were found to be infected with West Nile virus. The virus, which killed seven people in the New York area last year, can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord).

City health commissioner Neal L. Cohen, MD, told New Yorkers that some ways they can help protect themselves and stop the virus’ spread include: removing any sources of standing water around their homes; wearing long pants, long-sleeve shirts, and socks if they go outside at dusk, dawn, or early evening; and using insect repellent containing DEET (in a 10% or less concentration for children, 30% or less for adults).

“Protecting the public health is our No. 1 priority,” he said in a written statement. So far, New York is the only place the virus has struck in the U.S., but some health experts are concerned that it could spread to other parts of the country.

Other ways to keep mosquitoes away, experts say, include:

  • Making sure that doors and windows in your home have tight-fitting screens. Repair or replace all screens with tears or holes.
  • Removing discarded tires, in which mosquitoes tend to congregate, from your property, and getting rid of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots, and similar water-holding containers in your yard. Wading pools and wheelbarrows should be turned over when not in use.
  • Cleaning swimming pools, outdoor saunas, and hot tubs and using chlorine in them. They should be kept empty and covered when not in use.
  • Draining water from pool covers
  • Changing the water in birdbaths at least once a week

The discovery of infected mosquitoes in the southern section of Central Park marks the first time the virus has been found in mosquitoes in New York City this year, though it turned up in birds and mosquitoes in nearby areas earlier this summer. Mosquitoes become infected when they bite a bird with the virus.

No cases of West Nile virus in people have been reported this year.

The city is using synthetic pesticides called Sumithrin and Resmethrin, which can cause breathing problems for the elderly and people with respiratory ailments, in Central Park and other areas of the city. So people with asthma or other respiratory conditions are especially encouraged to stay inside during spraying.

Others can keep safe in the wake of the pesticide spraying by:

  • Staying indoors whenever possible, with windows closed and air conditioners off. Pets should be kept inside as well.
  • Avoiding eye contact with the spray if you must stay outdoors. If you get the spray in your eyes, immediately rinse them with water or eye drops. Wash skin and clothing exposed to pesticides with soap and water.
  • Removing children’s toys, outdoor equipment, and clothes from outdoor areas. If toys are left outside, wash with soap and water before using again.

Anyone who has adverse reactions to the sprayed pesticides should call his or her doctor or the New York City Poison Control Center at (212) POISONS, or (212) 764-7667.

The benefits of spraying clearly outweigh the risks, says Jeff Stier, associate director of the American Council of Science and Health in New York City. “It’s good that we have a mayor [Rudolph W. Giuliani] fighting for our protection by spraying,” he tells WebMD. “This is a good example of a safe use of pesticides.”

Besides, he notes: “More potent pesticides have been used for decades in mosquito-infected areas like South Florida with no negative health effects.”


Show Sources

© 2000 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info

search close