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Encephalitis scare hits New York

NEW YORK has done a great job of cleaning itself up over the past few years, with city authorities fighting crime and urban decay. But now they face a new enemy, one that may be just as hard to get rid of: mosquitoes.

An outbreak of St Louis encephalitis, a viral infection that can be deadly, has hit at least five people, with another 30 or so suspected cases. Two elderly people have died. The culprits are thought to be mosquitoes that linger in the damper parts of the city. Thousands of acres of the Bronx along the East River and Long Island Sound have been sprayed from the air. Local councillors argue that the sudden outbreak of the disease reflects budget cutbacks that closed down regular spraying efforts. "We've never had an SLE outbreak before,'' said Sandra Mullin, associate health commissioner.

It is more common in the south-eastern states. Most people recover quickly from the disease with little more than a slight fever and muscle aches. But for the very old and the very young, it can bring convulsions, coma and death.