The Heat Is Online

Boston Hit By West Nile Virus

West Nile virus confirmed in Boston

Public urged to take precautions around mosquitoes

The Boston Globe, July 27, 2000

A crow infected with West Nile virus has been found dead in Jamaica Plain, health authorities said yesterday, confirming that the encephalitis virus has migrated here and prompting officials to calmly warn the public to protect itself against mosquitoes.

The West Nile virus is spread by mosquito bites, and scientists said yesterday they are unsure how widespread it is among Boston's mosquito population. Birds cannot spread it to humans.

After discovering the infected crow on Saturday, Department of Public Health officials began testing mosquitoes to see if any were carrying the virus. Those results are due today and will determine if mosquito spraying outside the immediate Willow Pond area of Jamaica Plain, where the crow was discovered, is necessary. They will also consider aerial spraying, though only if signs emerge that large numbers of mosquitoes here carry the virus.

In the meantime, officials said yesterday that selected wooded areas will be sprayed in the days to come. Local residents will be notified if areas around their homes are to be targeted. They also advised people to wear pants and long-sleeve shirts when outdoors and to use insect repellent liberally.

There have not been any human cases of West Nile reported in the state. Last year the virus sickened 55 people and killed 7 in Queens, N.Y., all of them elderly. On Monday, New York officials closed Central Park after infected mosquitoes were found there, though no humans have tested positive.

Believed to have originated in Africa and Asia, West Nile is most likely to be fatal in the elderly, and state officials said all cautions apply doubly to them. Infants are also at higher risk. In most younger, healthy people the virus is typically benign.

The state will spray the Willow Pond area with pesticides as soon as the rain lets up, said state officials. If today's test results turn up numerous West Nile-infected mosquitoes or more dead or sickened crows, spraying will be more widespread.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino said, ''I'd rather be safe now than sorry later ... We think it's a very serious situation.'' But he cautioned against panic. ''This is a time for us to be aware and take action - and not be alarmed.''

State officials said they will aggressively test all dead animals found in the area for signs of the virus. Local hospitals will also be on the lookout for patients with West Nile-like symptoms. Horses throughout the state will also be tested.

Residents were urged to protect themselves and pets against mosquitoes, and empty any outdoor containers filled with water because mosquitoes breed around stagnant water.

''We have no idea how intense the force of transmission is locally. It may be that we will see another Queens 1999 in Boston or that [yesterday's findings] are the end of things,'' said Andrew Spielman, a professor of tropical public health at Harvard School of Public Health. ''We'll soon have some handle on how intense the outbreak is likely to be, or if there will be an outbreak.''

State officials have been testing dead crows regularly since the virus first appeared in New York last year.

''We're not surprised at all at the findings,'' said Ralph Timpari, assistant commissioner for the Bureau of Laboratory Sciences. ''It's a single bird. It's not a time of being overly concerned. It's an indication of how rare it is in Massachusetts.''

The West Nile virus can cause encephalitis or inflammation of the brain. It is transmitted through mosquitoes that become infected from birds that carry the virus. It cannot be spread by person-to-person contact, such as touching, kissing, or caring for someone who is infected.

State officials yesterday urged people to avoid mosquito exposure by limiting time spent outdoors and wear mosquito repellent.

''We have to take this very seriously because this disease can kill people,'' said Alfred DeMaria Jr., director of the Bureau of Communicable Disease Control for the Department of Public Health. ''We have to warn the entire population to take protective measures.''

Yesterday, health officials asked that hospitals send spinal tap results from patients with West Nile virus-like symptoms, to a state lab for testing. The virus can show up in spinal tap results.

Although there have been no outbreaks this year, New York City officials have confirmed West Nile mosquitoes in Westchester, Suffolk and Orange c ounties in New York and Stamford, Conn. About 40 infected birds have been found in the New York metropolitan area.

The Department of Public Health will issue public advisories before it begins spraying areas with pesticides. People who are sensitive to aerosol should avoid being outside for two hours after the area is sprayed.

The spray ''is a problem for sensitive people,'' Timpari said.

Two hot lines (1-877-603-3572 and 617-635-3050) have been set up by the Department of Public Health and the mayor's office to keep people informed about the virus. Concerned residents can also log on to www.state.ma.us/dph/cdc/wnvfax.htm for more information.

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 7/27/2000.

© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

Spraying for West Nile virus begins

The Boston Globe, July 28, 2000

The day after it was determined the potentially deadly West Nile virus had traveled up the coast to Massachusetts, a second infected crow found yesterday had public officials saying the mosquito-borne disease could spread statewide.

Birds carrying the disease are often the first sign that the virus may soon appear in mosquitoes and humans. While the birds cannot transfer the disease to people, they do act as a reservoir: Mosquitoes bite them, get the exotic encephalitis virus, and then bite humans. The infected crows have so far been found in Hopkinton and Jamaica Plain.

As in New York, where the virus mysteriously made its Western Hemisphere debut by killing seven people last year, Massachusetts officials yesterday were quick to announce expanded pesticide sprayings.

Late last night, officials began spraying pesticides from trucks in Franklin Park, especially targeting the golf course, as well as Jamaica Pond and the Hatch Shell. Similar spraying is expected to be done in the Hopkinton area.

''Most people who get West Nile virus don't have much in the way of severe symptoms, but we are doing all this to prevent severe disease in a small number of people,'' said Dr. Alfred DeMaria Jr., director of the state Bureau of Communicable Disease Control.

Officials have advised residents to wear long sleeves and pants when outside between dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.

Although there have been no human cases of the virus reported this year, a 12-year-old Jamaica Plain girl was admitted to Boston Children's Hospital on Wednesday with symptoms similar to that of the West Nile encephalitis virus. However, hospital and public health officials stressed yesterday that her symptoms of fever and delirium could indicate a range of illnesses. No other major hospital reported admitting a patient with West Nile-like symptoms.

Meanwhile, state officials said yesterday that 70 mosquitoes from Jamaica Plain's Willow Pond tested negative for the virus. Still, they said they expected to find mosquitoes with the disease within days.

The second infected bird was first found July 21, staggering across a Hopkinton road. It died shortly after being picked up by town animal control officials. Tests yesterday confirmed that the American crow had West Nile virus in its kidneys and brain. The first infected crow was found near Willow Pond on the Brookline-Jamaica Plain border on July 22. Birds pick up the disease and usually die from it following an incubation period that can last 10 days or more.

Worried residents across Massachusetts called town and state health officials to report seeing dead or sick birds. The virus can live in a range of bird hosts, including chickens and hawks. Following a nationwide alert about the virus and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that cities along the East Coast test for its appearance, Massachusetts has tested 49 birds since Memorial Day. Yesterday alone, state health authorities received 20 more for testing.

Boston's West Nile hot line, meanwhile, set up hurriedly Wednesday afternoon for residents, received about 200 calls Wednesday and 200 more by mid-afternoon yesterday, said Kristin O'Connor, a spokeswoman at the Boston Public Health Commission.

''It's scary,'' said Montserrat Carty, an 18-year-old Jamaica Plain resident, who was walking by Willow Pond yesterday. While rain kept most walkers away from the scenic pond along the Emerald Necklace, the few that strolled said they were tuning into news reports about the virus.

''I'm a little nervous. I'm not wearing anything for the mosquitoes,'' Carty said.

The West Nile virus, first diagnosed in Uganda in 1937, had its first major outbreak in Egypt in 1950. While it later popped up in Asia and Europe, it had never made it to the United States until last year.

Mosquitoes carrying the virus - which can cause encephalitis in extreme cases - have been found in and around New York this summer, as well as in Stamford, Conn.

Most people who get the virus don't know they have it because the symptoms mimic the flu. But the young, the elderly, or ailing can become very ill and sometimes die.

While the need to protect those people is high, many residents also expressed concern about the health threat posed by pesticides used to wipe out mosquito populations.

In New York, environmentalists filed a lawsuit recently in an unsuccessful bid to prevent the spraying of Central Park. They cited fears about the dangers of pesticides.

In Massachusetts, the state is planning to use Resmethrin, a synthetic form of a natural pesticide found in chrysanthemums. When exposed to sunlight, air, or water, the pesticide decomposes and reportedly kills 90 percent of mosquitoes that come in contact with it.

''We obviously need to deal with the spread of this virus, but in doing so we don't want to create a whole new public health problem by exposing residents to these pesticides,'' said Matt Wilson of Toxics Action Center, a nonprofit group that assists community groups with public health concerns.

In high doses, Resmethrin can cause nausea and dizziness in humans. In some extreme cases, it could cause convulsions, and ultimately, death. State and local officials assure the public that the pesticides are safe - and in fact mosquito control projects already frequently spray Resmethrin from trucks to kill adult mosquitoes. Officials also use a bacteria-based larvicide they spray into stagnant pools of water where mosquito larvae might hatch.

''The last three years it's been dry, so we haven't sprayed a lot. But now we are going to be in places we don't usually go,'' said Bruce Landers of the Suffolk County Mosquito Control project, an independent authority that seeks to control mosquitoes in Chelsea and Boston. He said both methods are necessary to kill mosquitoes.

And the methods are particularly important now because recent rains have created thousands of stagnant pools where millions of mosquitoes will breed in the next week to 10 days.

There is little concern that the virus's appearance will have an effect on summer tourism, said Amy Strack of the state Department of Tourism. But Pat Moscaritolo, who heads the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said vague anxieties can lead to changes in behavior. He said that he stayed out of Central Park last week when he visited New York - although he knew the odds against catching the virus.

''In our industry ... sometimes the perception is much stronger than the reality,'' Moscaritolo said. ''We are very aware when something happens that's out of the ordinary, when gas prices shoot up, or some kind of incident occurs.''

The news did bring in business for a select few industries. Edwin Misiph, who sells screen windows in West Roxbury, watched the news Wednesday night with his wife, but figured ''people aren't going to be scared of a little mosquito.'' But yesterday, he received 14 new contracts from people worried about the West Nile virus, said Misiph, owner of Reliable Products Co.

And a sprinkling of pharmacies throughout the city saw demand for mosquito repellent climb. Rich Lane, a pharmacist at Gary Drug on Charles Street, yesterday morning restocked his supplies. For the moment, Lane expects little more than mild concern, but he knows that could change quickly.

When ''somebody gets sick, or there's more than an errant crow, then people will be more concerned,'' he said. ''I think then people will be more and more likely to take precautions.''

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 7/28/2000