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RI Department of Environmental Management
RHODE ISLAND ANNOUNCES ACTION PLAN TO DEAL WITH POSSIBILITY OF WEST NILE VIRUS
First Meeting to Brief Local Officials Held Yesterday
PROVIDENCE -At the behest of Governor Almond, the Rhode Island Departments of Environmental Management and HEALTH have developed a statewide action plan to deal with the possibility that mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus, first found in North America last summer in New York City, could become present in Rhode Island this year. The main carrier of West Nile Virus in New York was the common house mosquito, meaning that all parts of the state would be at risk if the virus arrives in Rhode Island.
Rhode Island's West Nile action plan stresses preventative measures that include elimination of mosquito breeding areas and early application of larvicides, surveillance, and educating the public about steps they can take to reduce mosquito populations around their homes and yards and ways to avoid mosquito bites. The plan builds on the state's continuing successful efforts to address Eastern Equine Encephalitis, another mosquito-borne disease.
West Nile virus, commonly found in Africa, West Asia, and the Middle East, can cause West Nile encephalitis, an infection of the brain. In 1999, 62 cases of serious illnesses and seven deaths occurred in the New York area, primarily among older people.
The Centers for Disease Control and the New York City Department of Health reported last week that low but detectable levels of West Nile viral RNA were found in three out of 69 pools of overwintering mosquitoes in the Queens section of New York City. However, the CDC is unsure if this testing means that any of these mosquitoes could transmit the disease in the spring.
As part of Rhode Island's early efforts to address the issue, the Departments of Environmental Management and HEALTH have already planned a series of meetings with chief elected officials and department heads, with the first meeting held yesterday at the HEALTH auditorium in Providence. At the meeting, attended by more than 60 municipal officials, DEM and HEALTH official discussed the state's plans, the responsibilities of local communities, and how the state can help them. Planning in Rhode Island began last year.
DEM has also begun to acquire a large quantity of larvicide for use by municipalities in catch basins to try and limit the population of house mosquitoes. The department has scheduled two training session with municipal public works employees to brief them on the larviciding program. The first of those sessions is scheduled for March 31.
Since early detection is key to managing any potential threat, HEALTH will be monitoring health care providers to identify any human cases of West Nile Virus. DEM will use its network of volunteers, veterinarians, and animal control officers to look for evidence of the disease in wild bird populations, since birds are crucial to the potential spread of the disease.
DEM will continue its mosquito trapping program. The University of Rhode Island's Center for Vector-borne Diseases is gearing up to test the trapped mosquitoes for West Nile Virus, and, as in past years, for Eastern Equine Encephalitis as well.
HEALTH and DEM have also developed educational materials stressing personal protection. Simple palm cards are being translated into several languages, and will be widely distributed throughout the state this spring. With mosquito activity very low during colder weather, the CDC maintains that it is not necessary for individuals to take personal precautions against mosquitoes at this time. However, with the onset of mosquito breeding season just a month or two away, there is much the public can and should do now to help eliminate mosquito breeding grounds around their homes. Since thousands of mosquitoes can breed in just one cup of water, attention should be given to even the smallest potential breeding grounds. Residents should:
West Nile Virus is not transmitted person-to-person. People become infected with the virus by the bite of a mosquito, primarily from a species of Culex, a common house mosquito. Persons greater than 50 years of age have the highest risk of severe disease.