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State Receives $2 Million Grant to Bolster
TRENTON -- Health and Senior Services Commissioner Christine Grant announced today that the state has been awarded more than $2 million by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to enhance its epidemiology and laboratory capacity. The majority of the new funds will support the state's West Nile virus efforts.
"This funding is good news for New Jersey as we prepare for our third season with the West Nile virus," said Grant. "This year we'll have more staff and testing equipment dedicated full-time to detecting West Nile virus. This will allow us to give mosquito control agencies more information to combat the virus where and when it is found."
Grant said her department's West Nile virus (WNV) team this year will include additional laboratory and support staff using both federal grant and state dollars. CDC grant funding has also been awarded to the Departments of Health and Senior Services, Agriculture, and Environmental Protection, and the Rutgers Mosquito Research and Control Unit, for supplies and equipment including testing materials, computers, lab tables, refrigerators, freezers, transport coolers and light traps for catching mosquitoes for testing.
To support the efforts of local health officers, the CDC grant will fund a courier service to transport human, equine, crow and mosquito specimens to the state's Public Health and Environmental Laboratory in Trenton. In addition, grants will be awarded to selected local health departments to hire regional WNV coordinators and increase local surveillance and response capacities.
According to State Epidemiologist/Assistant Commissioner Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, who will serve as the principal investigator of the grant award, the grant also supports the creation of a geographic information system computer program for the study of the epidemiology and ecology of WNV in New Jersey.
"This grant, together with state funds, significantly enhances the surveillance, testing and research components of our WNV strategic plan," said Dr. Bresnitz.
In addition to federal funds, $2.5 million in state funds have been proposed in the Fiscal Year 2002 budget to heighten the state's ability to track and control the virus and the Department of Environmental Protection's budget allocates $2.4 more 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.
In total, the department was awarded $2,382,243 by the CDC, including $283,514 in funds rededicated from other purposes. In addition to supporting the state's WNV efforts, the new funding will support efforts to create a computer-based communicable disease reporting system, improve foodborne illness reporting and investigation, and increase surveillance for influenza during the winter months.
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 in 20 of the state's 21 counties.
In February, the state health, agriculture and environmental officials unveiled their strategic plan for detecting and responding to the expected re-emergence of WNV this spring and summer. The comprehensive plan includes 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.