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West Nile Less of a Problem in Erie County This Summer

By Mark Scott

Buffalo, NY – West Nile Virus appears to be much less of a problem in Erie County this year. But local health officials aren't dropping their guard.

In 2002, seven people in Erie County were diagnosed with West Nile Virus. One of them, a 76-year-old Buffalo man, died. But so far this year, there's been only one human case in all New York State. But that doesn't mean the disease has disappeared. County Health Commissioner Dr. Anthony Billittier says it seems the virus seems to be moving across the country.

"If you look at the entire nation, the epicenter appears to be shifting west," Billittier said. "I learned the other day the first case occurred in California, so they now have the virus."

Billittier says West Nile was found in five birds in Erie County earlier this summer. But for now, he says, the testing of birds has stopped.

"There's no more reason to keep testing. It just adds expense and doesn't tell us anything new."

"What we want people to do is still call us when they find a dead crow, because we plot that on a map," Billittier explained. "But don't be disappointed if we don't pick it up."

Last year, it wasn't until September that the first human case of West Nile was even reported in Erie County. And that's why Billittier says he wouldn't be surprised if that happens again this year.

"We know this is a disease that's here and is probably here to stay," Billittier continued. "It something that we're aware of and have to deal with.

"We know that there are some cases out there that never come to our attention for various reasons," Billittier said. "So, even if there is no report of one, that doesn't mean there hasn't been a human case this year."

Indeed, people who are in good health could be infected and never realize it. Billittier says his best advice is to "fight the bite," by removing the standing water which serves as a breeding ground for the mosquitos that carry the disease.