2002-08-21 / Seniors

Older New York City Population At Risk For West Nile Virus

Older adults are at risk of contracting the West Nile virus, said a city health official, so they should be more alert than others in attempting to avoid getting bitten by an infected mosquito.

Dr. Marcelle Layton, assistant commissioner for communicable diseases, who issued the warning after an 84-year-old Rosedale man was stricken last month, emphasized, "This is the time we need people to be alert."

Meanwhile, the stricken man remains hospitalized in critical condition.

The virus, which can develop into encephalitis (swelling of the brain) has killed 11 people nationwide this year, eight of them in Louisiana.

The warning for seniors is more ominous this year because the virus has shown a resiliency since it first struck in the College Point/Whitestone area in 1999 and health officials feel it’s here to stay.

Last year, there were only seven cases in New York City requiring hospitalization; the year before 14 cases and one death, and in 1999, 45 cases and four deaths.

So while the number of cases has decreased since the virus first appeared here, it’s still here and dangerous, especially for seniors.

Last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and health officials urged residents throughout the city to take preventive measures. Among these are: getting rid of all stagnant water where mosquitoes might breed, wearing long-sleeved shirts or pants if outside between dusk and dark when mosquitoes are busiest, and applying insect repellent. In addition, the city has begun spraying pesticides. For more information, call toll free (877) 968-4692.

The mayor summed up: "We’re doing things that you have to do to cut down on the mosquito population. And people can—have to be—part of this."

So, seniors be extra aware!

McLAUGHLIN GETS EMERGENCY SYSTEM: Seeking to put seniors serviced by Selfhelp Community Services at ease, Assemblymember Brian McLaughlin secured a $10,000 grant to acquire personal emergency response connections for them.

"The emergency system comes in the form of a small wireless device worn as a pendant or on a wrist strap which can be activated in times of illness or injury," the Flushing lawmaker explained.

In announcing the grant, McLaughlin (D) stated: "Too many of our seniors live with a dual fear—being sick or falling and having no one know about it. I hope that this emergency device will give seniors the peace of mind that they are never really alone."

He said the system is available to frail or homebound seniors 62 or older who reside in a Selfhelp apartment building. He noted, "Selfhelp has a long and distinguished history of advocacy for seniors."

PUSH CONTINUES FOR GENERICS: A report out of Richmond, Virginia recently details the continuing effort around the United States for greater use of generic drugs to help bring down prescription drug costs. Washington lawmakers hoping to add prescription drug coverage under Medicare feel it can only be done by greater use of generics and more availability of generics in the marketplace. That’s why virtually every plan for Medicare prescription drug coverage being considered calls for more generic drug use. A generic drug has the same active ingredients as a more expensive brand name drug, but is cheaper because the generic drug manufacturers don’t have the high research costs that brand name manufacturers do.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D–New York) has a major bill under consideration to enable more generics to come to the marketplace and Congressmember Joseph Crowley (D–Queens/Bronx) is a major supporter of a similar bill in the House.

The Richmond report details efforts by Blue Cross and Blue Shield to encourage its members to use generic instead of brand name drugs. Those efforts are succeeding. An official of that HMO says that 45 percent of members’ prescriptions are now filled using generic drugs, compared to 37 percent five years ago. Each increase of one percentage point saves $4 million to $5 million a year for employers and $2.5 million for individual consumers, the official said.

These savings occur because, to cite one example, brand name arthritis relief pills such as Celebrax and Vioxx cost $732 and $604, respectively, for a year’s supply. Patients can just as well use generics, which cost far less for a patient over a year. Ibuprofen costs $32 a year and other analgesics cost $48 or $140 a year.

The report says Blue Cross is making similar efforts to encourage greater generic drug use in upstate New York and in Michigan.

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