News Release

PO 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360
Christine Grant
For Release:
March 1, 2000
For Further Information Contact:
DHSS, Dennis McGowan &
Tom Breslin
DEP, Sharon Southard
NJDA, Debbie Lawler
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New Jersey Ready Should West Nile Virus Return

TRENTON - State health, environmental protection and agriculture officials today unveiled New Jersey's strategy for dealing with a possible return of the West Nile Virus (WNV) this spring. While no state residents were confirmed with WNV last year, animals and mosquitoes tested were found infected with the virus.

New Jersey's comprehensive plan includes enhanced mosquito control efforts; increased human, animal and mosquito surveillance; a streamlined system for testing collected samples; and a public education program.

"If West Nile Virus should return to the state this year, we'll be ready," said Gov. Christie Whitman. "All our resources and experiences are working together in an aggressive plan to protect the public."

New Jersey's plan involves the coordinated efforts of a number of federal, state and local agencies including the New Jersey Departments of Health and Senior Services, Environmental Protection, and Agriculture, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the State Mosquito Control Commission, the Rutgers Mosquito Research and Control Unit, and local health and mosquito control agencies.

"We have put together a comprehensive, coordinated plan that combines pre-season aggressive mosquito control efforts with increased surveillance and testing. This will allow us to respond quickly with targeted control activities should WNV be detected," said Health and Senior Services Commissioner Christine Grant.

"As always, New Jersey is ready for the mosquito season this spring and has taken extra steps for any possibility of the re-emergence of the West Nile Virus," said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Shinn.

Shinn said Governor Whitman has approved an additional $500,000 for state-supported mosquito control programs and services, and $250,000 in capital funds to purchase additional mosquito control equipment, available July 1, 2000. He noted that many county mosquito control agencies have spent the winter months clearing underbrush and looking for debris which might impede water flow and create stagnant water. He urged residents to act now and empty flower pots or any other outdoor container that might hold water and serve as a breeding habitat for mosquitoes.

"Although there is no definitive evidence that the virus will return to the region, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture will keep veterinarians and other relevant organizations apprised of the incidence of the disease in the state, should it occur," Agriculture Secretary Art Brown, Jr., said. "We will assist in the field diagnosis of suspected cases and recommend appropriate preventive actions to horse owners and establishments throughout the season."

The West Nile Virus, an arboviral disease, is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito that has picked up the virus by feeding on an infected bird. WNV is not directly transmitted from birds to humans or from person to person. WNV generally causes just mild, flu-like symptoms, however, the elderly are at higher risk of more severe disease.

The West Nile Virus was first isolated and identified by the CDC in September 1999 in birds found dead in New York City and Westchester County. The virus was responsible for 61 cases of encephalitis in New York and seven deaths. Prior to the New York outbreak, the virus had never before been identified in the Western Hemisphere.

New Jersey's plan calls for the following actions:

The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services will serve as the central coordinating agency for WNV surveillance and reporting. The department will take the lead in communicating with public health and mosquito control officials and will develop and distribute educational materials. The department will post fact sheets and up-to-date information for the public on its website at The department will establish and disseminate testing protocols to doctors, hospitals, local health officers, and other health care providers. The department will also coordinate and provide testing services. To support and supplement these efforts, the department has applied for a $250,000 grant from the CDC.

Local health departments will work with the Department of Health and Senior Services to distribute educational materials on WNV including what individuals can do to reduce the risk of being bitten by a mosquito. Local departments will also report suspected human cases and, with department staff, investigate any diagnosed cases. Local health departments will also collect, report and submit for testing bird specimens found within their jurisdictions.

The Department of Agriculture will conduct tests of blood drawn from sentinel chickens placed throughout the state, test suspicious cases in livestock and poultry, and provide surveillance tests for the livestock industry when requested.

The Department of Environmental Protection will fund the establishment of sentinel chicken flocks in all 21 counties as a surveillance tool to detect the presence of WNV. The department will also purchase additional spraying equipment to loan to counties requesting assistance. The department has a variety of contracted aircraft that can be used for applying larvicides and adulticides over large or inaccessible areas.

The State Mosquito Control Commission and Office of Mosquito Control Coordination, under the auspices of the Department of Environmental Protection, will coordinate and monitor county mosquito control agencies. They will also administer state air spray, equipment use, biological control and research programs, and other activities in support of county efforts.

County mosquito control agencies will conduct surveillance and control of larval and adult mosquitoes, and assist the Rutgers Mosquito Research and Control Unit surveillance for WNV. They will also educate the public and media regarding mosquito biology and control.

The Rutgers Mosquito Research and Control Unit will conduct surveillance for WNV in sentinel chickens, urban birds captured in mist nets, banded and released, and mosquitoes. Bird specimens will be sent to the Department of Agriculture lab for analysis; mosquitoes will be forwarded to the Department of Health and Senior Services lab.

DEP's Office of Fish and Wildlife Health and Forensics will monitor reports of wildlife, particularly avian, morbidity and mortality for potential WNV. The office will also necropsy wildlife specimens suspected of being infected with WNV and submit samples to the Department of Health and Senior Services lab for testing.

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Commissioner Christine Grant's Remarks March 1, 2000, Press Conference

CDC information about West Nile Encephalitis As of 2/1/00

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