News Release

PO 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360
Christine Grant
Commissioner
For Release:
August 4, 2000
For Further Information Contact:
Rita Manno
Dennis McGowan
609-984-7160
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No Human West Nile Cases Confirmed in New Jersey;
Virus only detected in birds this year

TRENTON - Contrary to some news reports, there have been no confirmed human cases of West Nile virus (WNV) infection in New Jersey this year, said Health and Senior Services Commissioner Christine Grant this afternoon.

"To ensure we don't miss any infections that could be caused by the West Nile virus, we are testing people with symptoms and signs that are not only found in West Nile infection but also in many other more common illnesses," said Grant. "The fact that we are testing certain patient's blood samples referred to us by their physicians as well as testing crows, mosquitoes and sentinel chickens should not surprise or alarm anyone. We must proactively assess a broad range of situations so we don't miss a genuine case."

Like last year, the department is testing people meeting criteria established collegially with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Those criteria include testing samples from people with a fever greater than 100 degrees and muscle weakness and altered mental status and with elevated levels of protein in their spinal fluid.

"Together, these symptoms are compatible with encephalitis, which can be caused by a number of viruses, including West Nile," Grant said. "Only a West Nile test can confirm or rule out West Nile virus infection. It is irresponsible to assume that just because someone is being tested for West Nile they have the virus."

"This Spring we announced a collaborative, comprehensive plan for detecting and combating West Nile virus and that plan is working well. I have full confidence in local health and mosquito control officials, my staff and all our partners in our control and surveillance efforts. The steps they are taking are prudent and are reducing the risk of West Nile exposure for all New Jersey residents," Grant added.

New Jersey's plan involves the coordinated efforts of a number of federal, state and local agencies including the New Jersey Departments of Health and Senior Services, Environmental Protection, and Agriculture, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the State Mosquito Control Commission, the Rutgers Mosquito Research and Control Unit, and local health and mosquito control agencies.

"I particularly wish to recognize the lead taken by county and local elected officials throughout the State for their creative and effective efforts to eliminate standing water, control mosquito populations and educate the public about the best ways to avoid West Nile infection," said Grant.

New Jersey's WNV plan includes enhanced mosquito control efforts; increased human, animal and mosquito surveillance; a streamlined system for testing collected samples; a coordinated communications plan; and public and health professional education.

To date, Grant said, blood and/or spinal fluid samples from more than 30 residents have been or are in the process of being examined using either the St. Louis Encephalitis (SLE) screening test or a test for WNV itself. The SLE test can be conducted by private laboratories for residents with conditions that do not fully meet established WNV testing criteria. Since SLE and WNV are closely related viruses, a WNV case will most likely have a positive SLE test. All results reported to date have been negative.

In addition, 543 blood samples have been taken from sentinel chicken flocks placed in all 21 counties and 465 mosquito pools have been collected for analysis. All results to date are negative for West Nile virus.

The only New Jersey specimens this year to test positive for the presence of WNV have been birds. To date, 15 of 356 crows analyzed have tested positive and a cockatiel, found in the wild, apparently abandoned by, or escaped from its owner, also tested positive for West Nile.

The West Nile virus, an arboviral disease, is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito that has picked up the virus by feeding on an infected bird. WNV is not directly transmitted from birds to humans or from person to person. WNV infection generally causes no symptoms or just mild, flu-like symptoms, however, the elderly are at higher risk of more severe disease.

The West Nile virus was first isolated and identified by the CDC in September 1999 in birds found dead in New York City and Westchester County. The virus was responsible for 62 human cases of encephalitis in New York State and seven deaths.

"New Jersey residents concerned about West Nile can take and should take personal precautions to minimize their exposure risk," Grant said. "Such measures include spraying insect repellent on their clothing and exposed skin in accordance with labeling directions and wearing long sleeved shirts and pants when outdoors. Residents can also curb outdoor activities at dawn, dusk and during the evening. Residents should also eliminate standing water on their own property that can serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes."

For more information on West Nile virus, visit the State Department of Health and Senior Services' website at www.state.nj.us/health, the State Department of Environmental Protection's site at www.state.nj.us/dep/mosquito, or the CDC's site at www.cdc.gov.

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