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Friday, 4 August, 2000, 23:17 GMT 00:17 UK
Virus panic grips US east coast
New York
New York is waiting for its first human case this summer
Concerns about the possible spread of the West Nile virus in humans have been swelled by the discovery of more infected birds.

Experts in 17 states are now on the look-out for the warning signs that the virus may be on the move into their area.

The infection is passed to humans through bites from infected mosquitoes, which are presumed to have originally picked it up from birds.

Large areas of New York have already been sprayed with insecticide in an attempt to prevent an outbreak of illness.

Last year seven died and dozens were infected by the virus, which in some cases can lead to dangerous encephalitis.

Dead birds have been found in several areas around the city, along with infected mosquitoes in other parts of the Eastern US such as Connecticut and New Jersey.

Boston blues

Concern about the illness has even spread to Boston where mosquitoes are being trapped and tested.

The virus has been found in dead birds there.

However, so far, there have been no cases in humans this summer. Only approximately 1% of mosquitoes carry the virus, so most bites will be completely harmless.

In addition, in many cases, symptoms of the virus are very mild and flu-like.

The re-emergence of the virus this year has disappointed those who hoped that it might have been a freak visitor, unable to over-winter in the cold East coast conditions.

However, a measure of the concern over the hitherto unknown virus that this week, a vaccine-producing company was awarded a $3m grant to develop a jab against West Nile virus.

Mass vaccination?

Although public health officials fear that the virus might in future years become more of a threat, unless it does, it is hard to envisage a mass vaccination programme for an illness which claims relatively few victims each year.

Mosquito control is one of the key weapons against West Nile virus, and the principal technique is large-scale spraying of the city to cut their populations.

Even Central Park has been given a dousing in insecticide.

It is not known whether extensive chemical spraying of the city has had any impact on rates of other illnesses, such as skin conditions or respiratory problems.

New Yorkers are being urged to cover up and dose themselves in DEET repellent, even in the sweltering heat of the city's summer.

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See also:

25 Jul 00 | Americas
Virus scare shuts Central Park
24 Apr 00 | Americas
NYC targets deadly mosquitoes
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