News Release
   
   PO 360
   Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

   For Release:
   February 22, 2001

Christine Grant
Commissioner

For Further Information Contact:
DHSS, Dennis McGowan & Chris Gage
609-984-7160
DEP, Sharon Southard
609-984-1795
NJDA, Debbie Lawler
609-292-8896

 
New Jersey Unveils 2001 West Nile Virus Response Plan

TRENTON--State health, environmental protection and agriculture officials today unveiled New Jersey's strategy for detecting and responding to the expected re-emergence of West Nile virus (WNV) this spring and summer.

New Jersey's comprehensive plan calls for enhanced mosquito control activities and increased human, animal and mosquito surveillance and testing so those working to control the virus will be able to more effectively determine its intensity, geographic spread and impact. The plan also includes a public education campaign to encourage residents to take personal protective measures during mosquito season.

State planning for this year's West Nile virus response began late last year with a cabinet-level meeting attended by the Commissioners of Health and Senior Services, Environmental Protection, the Secretary of Agriculture and key staff members including a representative from the New Jersey Economic Growth Commission. To support the state's expanded efforts, $2.5 million has been proposed in the FY2002 budget to heighten the state's ability to track and control the virus. The state has also applied for a $2 million grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In addition to these funding sources, the Department of Environmental Protection's budget allocates $2.4 million for a grant program to help counties that apply clean up scrap tires, which if left untreated can serve as excellent mosquito breeding grounds.

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 CDC; the United States Geological Survey (USGS); the United States Department of Agriculture; the State Mosquito Control Commission; the Rutgers Mosquito Research and Control Unit; and local health and mosquito control agencies.

"This is a sweeping, coordinated plan that will allow us to better locate and combat West Nile virus this season," said Health and Senior Services Commissioner Christine Grant. "Putting to use the lessons learned in dealing with the virus the past two years, we have developed a plan of action that reduces the risk of West Nile virus infection here in New Jersey."

"A key strategy we will employ is to combine aggressive mosquito control efforts with increased surveillance, testing and public education. This will allow us to respond quickly with enhanced, targeted control activities when and where West Nile virus is detected," said Grant.

Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Shinn said, "As I speak today, plans are currently being carried out to reduce mosquito habitat in advance of the spring breeding season. Each county is pulling together local tire-clean up plans in preparation for this year. The grants will go a long way in fighting the spread of the mosquito-born West Nile virus. Scrap tires make excellent breeding grounds. Thousands of mosquitoes can be bred in just one tire," he noted.

Additionally, Shinn emphasized that the county grants represented just one aspect of the state's tire clean-up program. DEP is also working with other state agencies on a program to clean up the two dozen so-called "orphan tire dumps" around the state that have existed for 30 years. Shinn commended Burlington County, which in October was the first to receive $178,901 for a tire recycling grant. The county added $100,000 to quickly round up and recycle the scrap tires and increase water management control and storm drain and ditch cleaning along county roads to reduce standing water, he said.

"Thanks to the support of this administration, the funding will provide residents the incentive and opportunity to work with us in addressing our scrap tire problem," Shinn stated.

Agriculture Secretary Art Brown, Jr., said, "Our Division of Animal Health will work closely with equine and other livestock owners to make sure they minimize the presence of mosquitoes on their properties and reduce the exposure of their animals to mosquitoes that may carry the virus. Curtailing exposure is their best defense until an effective vaccine can be developed."

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 or horses to humans, from horse to horse, or from person to person. In people, WNV generally causes no symptoms or just mild, flu-like symptoms; however, the elderly are at higher risk of more severe disease. Likewise, infected horses may not show any symptoms of the disease. When they do appear, symptoms may include the animal being "off his feed", or exhibiting neurological abnormalities.

The virus was detected for the first time in the Western Hemisphere in September 1999, in birds found dead in New York City and Westchester County. In 1999 the virus was responsible for 61 cases of encephalitis in New York State and seven deaths. In New Jersey, the virus was detected only in birds and mosquitoes in 1999.

In 2000, a total of six New Jersey residents became ill and one died due to WNV infection. The virus was also detected in mosquitoes, horses, crows and other birds - including a few sentinel chickens that tested positive late in the season. Due to their ineffectiveness as an early warning system for the presence of WNV, the sentinel chicken program will not be implemented statewide this year.

New Jersey's plan calls for the following actions:

The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services will serve as the central coordinating agency for WNV surveillance and reporting. The department will take the lead in communicating with public health officials and will develop and distribute educational materials. The department will post fact sheets and up-to-date information for the public on its website at www.state.nj.us/health. The department will revise and disseminate testing protocols to doctors,
hospitals, infection disease practitioners, local health officers, and other health care providers. The department will also coordinate and provide increased testing services to determine infection in humans, crows and mosquitoes.

The Department of Environmental Protection will purchase additional spraying equipment to loan to county mosquito control agencies requesting assistance. The department has a variety of contracted aircraft that can be used for applying larvicides and adulticides over large or inaccessible areas. The department is also funding its tire reclamation program.

The State Mosquito Control Commission and Office of Mosquito Control Coordination, under the auspices of the Department of Environmental Protection, will coordinate and monitor county mosquito control agencies. They will also administer state air spray, equipment use, biological control and research programs, and other activities in support of county efforts.

The Department of Agriculture will conduct tests of suspicious cases in horses, and continue surveillance testing statewide.

DEP's Office of Fish and Wildlife Health and Forensics will monitor reports of wildlife, particularly avian, morbidity and mortality for potential WNV. The office will also necropsy wildlife specimens suspected of being infected with WNV and submit samples to the National Wildlife Health Centers in Madison, WI, for testing.

Local health departments will collect, report and submit for testing bird specimens found within their jurisdictions. They will also work with the Department of Health and Senior Services to distribute educational materials on WNV including what individuals can do to reduce the risk of being bitten by mosquitoes. Local departments will also report suspected human cases and, with department staff, investigate any diagnosed cases.

County mosquito control agencies will conduct surveillance and control of larval and adult mosquitoes, and assist the Rutgers Mosquito Research and Control Unit surveillance for WNV. They will also educate the public and media regarding mosquito biology and control.

The Rutgers Mosquito Research and Control Unit will conduct increased surveillance for WNV in mosquitoes and in urban birds captured in mist nets, banded and released. Mosquitoes will be sent to the Department of Health and Senior Services' lab for analysis; bird blood samples will be forwarded to the CDC Vertebrate Vector Laboratory in Ft. Collins, CO, for testing.

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