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City will spray borough to ward off West Nile Virus

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The city Department of Health will begin spraying larvicide in several parts of Queens in the coming weeks in an effort to ward off a West Nile Virus outbreak.

The DOH said Flushing Airport, Alley Pond Park and the Flushing River will all be sprayed with larvicide between June 23 and July 2. The DOH said the preventative larvicide, which will be dropped from helicopters, is designed to kill mosquitoes before they reach adulthood. The DOH does not conduct larvicide spraying in residential areas.

The preventative spraying in Queens and elsewhere in the city is being conducted after mosquitoes in Staten Island tested positive for the disease.

DOH Commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said that as the summer season begins, so too does the mosquito season, and Queens residents should prepare themselves to avoid catching the potentially deadly West Nile Virus.

"People over 50 are the most vulnerable," Frieden said. "Fortunately, anyone can avoid infection. The best way to reduce your risk is to wear repellent if you go outdoors in the evening, when mosquitoes are most active."

West Nile Virus is a disease that typically afflicts birds but can also be transferred to humans. Since its initial discovery in the United States in College Point in 1999, the virus has affected thousands of U.S. residents each year, killing hundreds, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Although human cases range in severity, in its harshest form it causes fever-like symptoms, headaches, severe fatigue and decreased consciousness. If untreated, it can be deadly.

Though no human cases were reported in the city last year, 10 pools of water containing mosquito larvae in Flushing and College Point tested positive for West Nile Virus last August.

Dr. James Rahal of New York Hospital Queens, an expert on the disease, said that while no human cases have yet been found in the city this year, people should take precautions to avoid contracting the disease, as it has no cure.

He said wearing as much clothing as possible, clearing out or avoiding standing water and using insect repellent with DEET are the best ways to prevent the disease.

"People should avoid mosquitoes to as great a degree as possible," he said.

Despite the fact that the disease can be serious, Rahal said there is no need for people to panic, as severe cases in humans are rare.

"It should be recognized that there are probably many mosquito bites that transmit West Nile Virus that show no symptoms whatsoever," Rahal said.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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