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Tuesday, 25 July, 2000, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
Virus scare shuts Central Park
Trucks spraying chemicals
Officials have begun spraying the park with insecticide
By Jane Hughes in New York

New York's Central Park has been temporarily closed to the public because of the discovery of mosquitoes carrying the potentially deadly West Nile virus.

An open air concert expected to attract up to 40,000 people has been cancelled and officials have ordered mass insecticide spraying.

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has called on the city to stay calm about the threat of West Nile virus but the closure of Central Park, at the heart of Manhattan, is inevitably provoking some anxiety.

The virus, which can cause swelling of the brain, was brought to the United States by mosquitoes for the first time last year, killing seven people in New York and causing panic in the city.

Insecticide being loaded
The authorities were accused last year of reacting too late
The disease is also carried by birds, Officials had hoped that was a one-off situation but it is now clear the disease has a firm hold.

Not only have infected insects been found in Central Park, they have also been discovered as far afield as Connecticut and New Jersey and a number of birds have already been killed by the virus.

Central Park has been closed so that it can be thoroughly sprayed with insecticide.

That has forced the cancellation of an open air concert on Monday night by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

The rest of the city will be sprayed over the course of the week but the question is whether that will be enough to prevent people catching West Nile virus.

Health advice

Several hundred people have already been tested for the disease though so far no humans have been infected this year.

That may be because people are heeding the advice to stay inside at dusk and use insecticide when they go out.

But it is leaving New Yorkers feeling beleaguered.

"It's very scary," one said. "You can't stay in your yard, you can't go out, you have to wear long pants."

Concern is also rising about the side effects of the spray being used by the city and the big question now is how much further the disease will spread in a couple of months time when the autumn migration of birds begins.

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See also:

29 Sep 99 | Medical notes
Encephalitis
24 Apr 00 | Americas
NYC targets deadly mosquitoes
29 Sep 99 | Americas
NY brain virus 'could spread south'
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