- FAIRFIELD, Conn. (Reuters)
- Government officials and scientists said on Tuesday they were concerned
about a return of the potentially deadly West Nile virus to New York and
Connecticut next summer.
- The disease, carried by birds and transmitted via mosquito
bites, causes flu-like symptoms and sometimes inflammation of the brain.
It was blamed for the deaths of seven people in the New York area and hundreds
of crows in the northeastern U.S. this past summer and fall.
- Dead crows were found as far south as Maryland, but there
were no indications people outside the New York City area were affected.
- ``We were woefully ill-prepared for this epidemic of
West Nile virus,'' Durland Fish, assistant professor at the Yale School
of Medicine, testified at a U.S. Senate field hearing on the virus at Fairfield
University in Fairfield, Conn.
- ``The introduction of a foreign insect-borne virus, never
before seen in the Western Hemisphere, is a public health threat unprecedented
in modern times,'' Fish said. ``It is reminiscent of the introduction of
yellow fever and bubonic plague in past centuries.''
- Fish said there were three possible outcomes. ``It could
simply disappear and represent a kind warning from Mother Nature that there
is more to come. It could establish itself and repeat the events of last
summer. Or, it could explode into a raging epidemic that spreads far beyond
the confines of New York and Connecticut.''
- ``The experts all agree that the odds are overwhelming
it will return next spring, summer, fall -- and there's a lot that we ought
to be doing now in preparation for that, to be able to strike at the mosquito
population that carry the disease,'' U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut
Democrat, told reporters.
- Lieberman, a member of the Senate Environment and Public
Works Committee, said there was cause for concern but not panic.
- ``We ought not to panic, but we have a serious problem,''
he said, adding that while no one in Connecticut died, ``It was an awful
close bullet because... New York is just next door.''
- Lieberman said he would seek federal funds for research
to prevent the return and spread of West Nile, a form of encephalitis seen
as particularly dangerous to children and the elderly. _____
- West Nile Virus May Be New Deadly Strain, USGS Tells
- United States Geological Survey http://www.usgs.gov/
- Recent crow die-offs suggest the West Nile virus which
emerged in New York in late August could be more deadly to North American
bird species than to species in Africa, the Middle East and Europe, where
the virus is normally found, a USGS scientist reported today at a congressional
field hearing held in Connecticut by the Senate Committee on Environment
and Public Works.
- Dr. Robert G. McLean, director of the USGS National Wildlife
Health Center in Madison, Wis., briefed the committee on the role of native
bird populations and other wildlife in the emergence of West Nile virus
in the United States. Detection of the virus in birds and other animal
species provides critical information to public health agencies tracking
the infection in people.
- "The high mortality in crows and other bird species
is unusual for these viruses," McLean said. "This suggests that
this virus is more virulent to our native birds or it may represent a new,
more virulent strain of the virus."
- Resident and migratory birds may play an important role
in natural transmission of the virus and in maintaining the virus in the
United States, McLean testified. "Migratory birds could also spread
the virus to other states outside of the New York City area," he said.
"Enhanced monitoring through surveillance for early, rapid detection
of West Nile virus in states outside the affected area will be important
to guide prevention measures."
- The emergence of West Nile virus in the United States,
which led to the deaths of seven people from West Nile encephalitis, has
brought together the combined expertise and resources of many federal and
state agencies along the eastern seaboard. Several federal and state agencies
and private groups are searching for stored human and animal specimens
that were collected prior to 1999 in order to test them for the presence
of West Nile virus. These specimens are also being tested for antibodies
to determine if the virus was present in the United States before the 1999
outbreak. Results from these investigations should provide more insight
into how, where and when the virus was introduced, McLean noted.
- McLean, who received his Ph.D. at Penn State University
in 1966, and has 30 years of experience with wildlife diseases, also discussed
the activities and efforts of the USGS in investigating the wildlife aspects
of this virus. "As of early November, 392 birds have been tested by
USGS and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and 192 were
positive for West Nile virus," McLean said. "The virus has infected
at least 20 species of birds, including exotic and native birds at zoos,
and about four species of mosquitoes. But, it is difficult to assess how
many birds have died from this disease."
- USGS, CDC, U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies
have heightened wildlife surveillance for detection of West Nile virus,
and they have expanded monitoring to other Atlantic and Gulf Coast states.
McLean assured the committee, "We are continuing to collaborate on
enhanced surveillance and to determine what specific surveillance methods
will work best for each region."
- McLean believes that native bird populations will play
a key role in the investigation of the long-term impacts of the West Nile
virus in the United States. He added, "Additional research is needed
in order to determine if wildlife, mosquito or both populations in the
affected areas can maintain the virus in New York and other states and
serve as an over wintering source for resurgence next summer."
- For more information on West Nile virus, see the following
- USGS Home Page on West Nile Virus <Link>