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West Nile virus may stick around for good

As some health officials speculated last week that the West Nile virus may be around for a long time to come, officials announced Friday afternoon that a 78-year-old Staten Island man was the year's first reported human case of West Nile virus.

"This is the first evidence we've had this year of a human case, either in New York City or anywhere else," Dr. Steven M. Ostroff, West Nile coordinator for the federal Centers for Disease Control, said at a news conference at the city's Health Department headquarters in Manhattan.

The victim, who lives in the borough's southern part, began showing symptoms of the disease on July 20, said Neal Cohen, city health commissioner. On July 22, he was admitted to Staten Island University Hospital, Cohen said, where he remained for a week. The man was recovering at his home Friday, officials said.

Politicians and health officials gathered at New York University Medical Center last week to discuss West Nile and the city's prevention efforts. At the time, one medical expert speculated the virus may be in the local ecosystem for another 20 years.

After an initial outbreak in Queens in August 1999, the virus resurfaced in the metropolitan area this year in dozens of dead birds and several mosquito pools in Staten Island, Manhattan and Queens. So far, the only presence of the virus found in Queens has been three in dead birds in Douglaston, Woodhaven, and Richmond Hill.

While officials would not be too specific about this year's first human case of West Nile, Cohen said the Health Department reported that the man tested positive for the virus July 27. Results from the CDC came back positive last Thursday, Aug. 3, the health commissioner said.

Last week, Ostroff pointed out that human cases would begin to appear at this point in the summer, about the same time as the 1999 cases of West Nile came to light.

"Now is the time that you'd be seeing cases if they were to occur," he said.

Ostroff praised the city's elaborate system for monitoring the virus' presence in the area's human, bird and mosquito populations, but he said it was likely West Nile would stay in the area.

"I think the data is telling us that the virus is here to stay and probably will continue to move throughout other areas," he said.

So far his prediction has been coming true. Earlier on Friday, New York State Health Commissioner Antonia Novello announced that four more upstate New York counties - Schenectady, Rensselaer, Columbia, and Erie - had birds infected with West Nile virus in addition to Long Island, Westchester and Rockland counties.

Martin Blaser, chairman of the NYU Department of Medicine, said: "It's very clear that the West Nile virus will remain in our ecosystem."

But, he added, "when the birds go immune, the virus will go away,."

- Reporter Alexander Dworkowitz contributed to this story.

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