A dead blue jay in Douglaston brought home the message Queens residents and local officials hoped would never come this summer: the West Nile virus was back, prompting the city to mobilize its forces this week to contain the sometimes deadly germ.
The city Health Department announced Friday the blue jay found in Douglaston on July 5 - the same day the agency discovered dead birds in Staten Island that were later found to be carrying West Nile - tested positive for the virus. Last week's announcement marked the first time West Nile had been found in Queens this year.
As the city leapt into active mosquito control to try to contain the spread of the virus this week, Queens community boards were fielding a variety of calls on West Nile from concerned residents.
In the last several months community boards have been equipped with reporting forms to report dead birds and standing water to allow residents to alert the city. Mosquitoes - which can spread the West Nile virus to humans and cause the brain disease encephalitis - breed in standing water, and certain types of dead birds are being tested by the city to identify the presence of the disease in the area.
A spokeswoman for Community Board 11, which covers several communities in northeast Queens that were sprayed Monday night, said the group had fielded a few calls about dead birds or standing water but also had received many calls about the pesticide spraying.
Marilyn Bitterman, district manager of CB 7, said her board only received a handful of calls about West Nile, dead birds, or standing water. CB 7 includes the communities of College Point, Flushing, and Whitestone. College Point was thought to be the place where West Nile originated during the 1999 spread of the virus.
As of press time, no evidence of West Nile had been found in that section of Queens and there were no plans to spray those communities.
Mary Ann Carey, district manager of CB 9, which covers Richmond Hill and Woodhaven, said she had received some calls about West Nile. "Believe it or not, I think most people feel comfortable and confident in how the city's been handling it," she said. "It's reassuring for me to see the city take an aggressive role in the spraying."
Mary Tschinkel, assistant district manager of CB 5, which includes Middle Village and Glendale, said residents of her area had expressed concern that the city had not picked up some of the dead birds reported.
The city Health Department said it was not picking up all of the dead birds reported, adding that if a reported dead bird was not taken away by the agency within 48 hours, residents should carefully dispose of the birds themselves. The agency urged caution, encouraging residents to use gloves and plastic bags.
Health Department spokesman John Gadd said the majority of the dead birds found to have West Nile were reported by residents.
The West Nile virus was discovered in Queens in August 1999. Last year's outbreak marked the first appearance of the mosquito-borne virus in the Western Hemisphere.
To control the spread of the virus, the city Health Department has created a large surveillance system which includes about 120 mosquito traps around the city, 14 sentinel bird flocks monitored to see if they are infected by the virus, a program to pick up and test dead birds, and a commitment to stay in close contact with hospitals around the city to track human cases of the disease.
According to the Health Department, mild symptoms of West Nile infection can include: fever, headache, body aches, a mild rash and/or swollen lymph glands. In people with compromised immune systems or in more serious cases, the virus can cause encephalitis, leading to permanent neurological damage or death.
For more information about the city's efforts to combat West Nile, call 1-877-968-4692, or go to the city's web site at www.nyc.gov/health.
©2000 Community News Group
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