OT (health/terrorism?) West Nile virus RNA found in New York mosquitoes

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West Nile virus RNA found in New York mosquitoes

ATLANTA, March 9 (Reuters) - Traces of the West Nile encephalitis virus blamed for seven deaths in the New York City area last year have been found in mosquitoes wintering in the area, federal health officials said on Thursday.

Low, but detectable levels of West Nile viral ribonucleic acid (RNA) were found in mosquitoes in three of 69 samples collected by health workers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

Researchers said it was unclear if tests that found the genetic material portend a return of West Nile virus in the New York area in the spring.

The samples were taken from various buildings and from storm sewers and sewage treatment plants in the New York area. All of the mosquitoes with West Nile RNA were found at Fort Totten in northeastern Queens.

"We don't fully understand the implications of that finding," said Dr. Steven Ostroff of the CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases.

The CDC said the findings could be misleading because the experimental test used to detect West Nile virus RNA, while believed to be very sensitive, is new and experimental and has not been perfected.

The virus caused 62 cases of encephalitis in the New York City area last summer and fall, Ostroff said. Seven people died, including a Canadian who contracted the disease while visiting New York City.

The virus, which is carried by birds and transmitted via mosquito bites, is common in parts of Africa and Asia but was unknown in the Americas until 1999 when it appeared in the United States.

Earlier this year the CDC urged officials in coastal states from Massachusetts to Texas to test birds and mosquitoes for the virus and to take steps to control mosquito populations by eliminating breeding areas and applying larvicides.

The virus, which causes flu-like symptoms and sometimes inflammation of the brain, was also blamed for the deaths of hundreds of crows in the northeastern United States. West Nile infection was also found in several horses and domestic animals.

-- Possible Impact (posim@hotmail.com), March 09, 2000

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