In a move apparently designed to alleviate public fear over the threat of West Nile Virus, Congressman Steve Rothman (D – 9th Dist.) invited the president-appointed West Nile Virus czar to tour the mosquito war zone in Northern New Jersey.
Last March, Rothman asked President Bill Clinton to appoint a “czar” to handle the apparently growing problem of West Nile virus in the Northeast. The sometimes-fatal virus first appeared in the area last year and is transmitted by mosquitoes. The President responded by naming Dr. Stephen Ostroff, coordinator of the Center for Disease Control, to the post.
In a two-county tour, Ostroff reviewed efforts by Northern New Jersey to combat the threat of disease-bearing mosquitoes. No infected mosquitoes have been found in Hudson County, and county officials said control efforts since last February may have helped reduce the number of mosquitoes and thus the potential threat of someone getting the disease.
There was, however, a case recently in which a Jersey City man contracted the disease. He is at home recovering. Because the problem has gone beyond the borders of just one state, Rothman said he believe federal authorities should oversee the efforts, rather than having each area attempting to deal with the situation on its own. By having a federal czar overseeing the operations, local and state officials will not have to duplicate efforts in trying to battle the threat.
Although he said the professionals do not like to compare diseases, Rothman said the West Nile Virus is considered as much of a public threat as Lyme disease.
To date, the federal government has made about $9 million available to deal with the West Nile virus, about $300,000 to $400,000 of which has been given to New Jersey. A lot of the money had been going into research at the CDC in Atlanta to find out more about the disease and how to deal with it. Ostroff, a Camden County native, is one of the leading experts in the field.
Seems worse than last year
In addressing the press and other dignitaries at a press conference held at the Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus Monday, Ostroff said he could understand why the public might be discouraged. West Nile-stricken crows have been reported as far north as New Hampshire and Western New York State, and as far south as Southern New Jersey. Locally, officials said that more than 60 crows in Hudson County have been confirmed as having the West Nile Virus. Secaucus has had two, and according to Hoboken Health Officer Frank Sasso, Hoboken has had three.
But Ostroff said some very positive differences exist between last year when the disease was first uncovered and this year. He said last year, 62 human cases were confirmed in New York, with seven deaths attributed to the disease. This year, 12 human beings were confirmed, and no deaths.
“This is strong testimony to the extraordinary effort being made in Hudson County, Bergen County and New York City,” Ostroff said. “Those efforts have not been wasted. It has had an impact in preventing more cases this year.”
Last year, the average age of the 62 victims was 66, with the youngest five and the oldest 90. This year, of the 12 cases, the average age is 63 with the youngest 40 and the oldest 87. Last year, the center of the disease seemed to be northern Queens in New York. This year, the disease seems to be centered in Staten Island.
Hudson County Executive Robert Janiszewski said that this year, two cases had been found in New Jersey, one in Hudson County, the other in Bergen County.
Taking the war to where the mosquitoes live
Janiszewski said when disease was uncovered last year, many people wondered where it had come from, how it had gotten here, and what the risk of people getting it. The more important questions, however, involved how to minimize the risk of people getting it. In this regard, Hudson County has formed partnerships with the local community to assault the mosquito population before it could become a danger to the public.
Culex nigripalpus, the mosquito that can spread the disease to humans, is a plain brownish insect that lays egg rafts in water, including water in artificial containers, polluted pools, roadside ditches and rain-diluted salt marshes. It feeds at night, taking blood from birds, mammals and reptiles and then passing it onto humans it might bite later.
To detect potentially lethal mosquitoes, the state installed “sentinel chickens” which are tested routinely for the viruses. These were placed at various points around the county where mosquitoes are prevalent, including the Meadowlands and Liberty State Park. As of yet, officials reported that none of these chickens had come up with the disease.
He said the county began to attack the mosquito while it was still in his harmless larval stages, using a larvacide that was harmful to the mosquito, but not to the environment. He said the county and state have continued to test birds, mosquitoes and sentinel chickens, and while dead crows have shown to have been infected in the county, no mosquitoes have been found and none of the sentinel chickens posted at various places have shown signs of the infection either.
Janiszewski, however, said the county is prepared for the time when such mosquitoes show up, and that the county will then use an adultcide agent that will attack mosquitoes directly. This will be used in fogging machines. He said the first such spraying was scheduled to occur this week, in areas where there has been a concentration of dead crows.
The most dead crows have been found in the Stephen Gregg Park in Bayonne and at a section near Route 440 on the Bayonne Jersey City border, running along the flyway from Staten Island to Bergen County.
Ground spraying, which utilizes chemicals designed to attack the adult mosquito, will be conducted in areas where officials determine a need. These areas could include parks throughout the county, wetland areas near the Belleville Turnpike, and areas in Secaucus, North Bergen and Jersey City, which contain the most landscape for potential problems. While in most cases, spraying is done in remote areas, some areas routinely used by the public may also need attention. In these instances, police will cordon off the area for the duration.
“A good defense is a good offence,” Janiszewski said, but noted that the agent being used is less dangerous than those being used across the Hudson River in New York.
According to Dr. Adrian Enache of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Scourge – the insecticide that will be used in Hudson County – may kill some fish, but it is among the least dangerous of the insecticides available.
Scourge, according to its manufacture, uses two ingredients that enhance the effectiveness of each other and allows the spray to be used at lower concentration and yet still be effective. Both of these ingredients are mixed with soybean oil, which is used as a carrier. The amount of actual insecticide used is about 10 to 15 drops per acre and breaks down in sunlight in less than four hours.
Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell said – because the Meadowlands pose such a likely breeding ground for mosquitoes – the county and the town were aggressive in reducing the numbers of potential mosquitoes, starting early with both larvacide and education programs. He said the town’s Office of Emergency Management has surveyed the area, searching out breeding grounds so they could be treated with larvacide.
But Elwell said this will be an ongoing problem.
“It is very likely that West Nile Virus will be with us for a long time,” he said. “This means we have to be diligent and not stop our efforts.”