Today’s news:

West Nile spraying set to begin in NE Queens

The city Health Department’s annual battle against the deadly West Nile virus was set to kick into high gear this week with the larviciding of catch basins in northeast Queens, Assistant Health Commissioner James Gibson said Tuesday.

Gibson told Borough President Helen Marshall and district managers from Queens’ 14 community boards at Borough Hall that there were no plans for aerial spraying of adult mosquitoes in the borough—yet.

Such action would only be warranted if there was “an imminent threat to public health,” said Gibson.

Cool temperatures this spring have delayed mosquito season to the point where Gibson estimated it would be mid-to-late July before pesticides would be needed to kill adult mosquitoes.

Aerial larviciding in unpopulated Staten Island marshlands was set to begin this week, said the assistant commissioner.

West Nile virus, a mosquito-borne organism discovered in dead birds, first appeared in the Western Hemisphere in the Powell’s Cove section of Queens in 1999.

The virus infected 29 people in New York City last year, 12 of them in Queens. Three victims died citywide from the infection last year, including a 73-year-old Jackson Heights man — the only Queens fatality, Health Department spokesman Greg Butler said.

Symptoms of the virus can range from none at all to mild rash and fever to severe headache, stiff neck and muscle weakness, especially in the elderly.

Catch basins in parks and streets in northeast Queens would be among the first sites in the city where Health Department inspectors would kill mosquito eggs, Gibson said.

Out of 700 reports citywide this year of dead birds, 237 were found in Queens but all those tested came up negative for West Nile virus, said Health Department spokesman Andrew Tucker.

Gibson said that calls to the Health Department about dead birds were down this year, perhaps because West Nile virus has been out of the news.

“This has become a disease that people have become accustomed to, to some extent,” said Gibson, who encouraged people to report dead birds by calling 311.

The virus tends not to kill pigeons but is more prevalent in crows and sparrows, said Gibson.

He said the department would only pick up recently dead birds such as crows and sparrows for West Nile testing because the virus would not show up in badly decomposed birds.

“It’s important for us to know where the dead birds are, even if we don’t pick them up,” he said.

Dead birds should never be touched with bare hands and should be removed only with double bags, said Gibson.

Reports on standing water were on par with last year even with this spring’s heavy rains.

Gibson said the department had reduced the number of mosquito trap sites in the city from 96 to 47 because three years’ worth of data had allowed the city to pinpoint the problem mosquito areas, one of which is in northeast Queens.

Although heavy rains usually mean more mosquito breeding, cool temperatures this year reduced the number of larvae found in test sites, Gibson said.

Tucker said his agency handed out 57 violations citywide this year for standing water infractions, such as unused swimming pools.

Of the violations, six were in Queens, though he could not specify where.

Yvonne Reddick, district manager of Community Board 12 in southeast Queens, said her office had received many calls from residents concerned over standing water in areas with poor drainage.

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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