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Season’s first W. Nile case found in Bellerose

In what has become an annual event, the city Department of Health announced the season’s first confirmed case of West Nile virus in a sparrow and mosquito pool in Bellerose last week, marking the 2001 debut of West Nile in Queens.

Since 1999 when the virus was first discovered in the Powell’s Cove section of College Point, the city has transformed its insect control program from a barely-there part of city government to a finely tuned machine.

The monitoring system was created by the city Health Department in 2000 after the West Nile virus, which was originally identified as St. Louis encephalitis, eventually killed four people in Queens and sickened dozens throughout the city.

The system was in such high gear, in fact, that the agency was aware of a cluster of dead birds in the Bellerose area for weeks before the July 18 announcement of the virus’ presence. The Health Department credited residents with reporting the dead birds for its ability to detect the West Nile activity so quickly.

In one broad stroke last week several localities announced the presence of West Nile in their areas for the first time this year, including Bellerose, the Todt Hill section of Staten Island and Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The 1999 insecticide campaign against West Nile sparked controversy when several environmental groups protested against the Health Department’s use of malathion and charged the city with not properly informing people of the schedule and possible dangers before spraying the chemical.

In 2000 the city Health Department switched pesticides, using the less toxic Anvil, and mounted an extensive campaign to attack mosquito larvae and prevent the insect population from maturing.

The 2001 efforts to control West Nile include what the Health Department describes as increased testing of birds and mosquitoes, and “intensified larval surveillance and larviciding activities, particularly in parks and green areas.”

It was unclear as of press time Tuesday where in Bellerose the bird was found and whether or not the city would spray pesticides in the area.

Community leaders said residents seemed more worried about the possibility of spraying than anything else.

Bruno DeFranceschi, president of the North Bellerose Civic Association, said “people I have spoken to are not concerned about the disease. They are more concerned about the spraying.”

Richard Hellenbrecht, chairman of Community Board 13, which covers Bellerose, credited the Health Department with keeping the community informed.

“They have been doing a very good job getting the word out,” he said.

City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis), who is running for borough president this year, said there were no plans to spray in Bellerose or the surrounding area.

“People sort of expected that there would be West Nile in the area,” Leffler said.

The West Nile virus infects birds and other animals and is often transferred to humans by mosquitoes, which breed in stagnant water and overgrown areas. The Health Department has emphasized prevention and the elimination of mosquito breeding areas in this year’s campaign against the virus.

A day after the city announced its findings in Bellerose two Queens congressional members requested additional funding from the federal government to he lp support the city’s efforts to combat the spread of the virus.

U.S. Reps. Nita Lowey (D-Rego Park) and Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) requested Friday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency reimburse the city and state in the form of emergency funding for their battle against mosquitoes and the virus.

Since its first appearance in Queens and the city in August 1999, the West Nile virus has spread up and down the East Coast and been found in 14 other states.

“Mosquitoes don’t respect state lines,” Lowey and Crowley said in a joint letter to FEMA. “It is clearly time for the federal government to stop this virus in its tracks. Families are depending on us to ensure their health and well-being.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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