The Suffolk County Department of Health Services revealed last Friday that a mosquito from Southampton Town, and one from East Hampton Town, tested positive for West Nile Virus. According to a press release distributed by the Department of Health Services on September 3, these samples were part of a batch collected on August 26 and 27 in areas throughout the county. Extending the corners of Suffolk County, from Babylon to Riverhead, the Department of Health Services says this round of testing uncovered 40 insects infected with the virus. This year, a total of 236 mosquitoes and 61 birds tested positive. So far, there have been four reported and confirmed cases of West Nile Virus in humans, the press release continued.
“We are seeing record numbers of infected mosquitoes this year and it is likely to be a while before mosquitoes become dormant for the season,” said Dr. James L. Tomarken, the Commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. Beginning in 1999, when the virus was first detected in the county, the Department of Health Services has conducted annual testing. Their samples, which are collected at state and county parks in the area, are sent to the New York State Department of Health laboratory for confirmation of the presence of the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, West Nile Virus is a flavivirus commonly found in Africa, West Asia and the Middle East, but tends to flare up in North America in the summer and fall. The virus afflicts many common animals, like horses, dogs, cats, bats, chipmunks, skunks, squirrels and domestic rabbits, but mainly infects birds. It is transmitted to humans through mosquito bites.
West Nile Virus, the CDC continues, is a potentially very serious illness. A person infected with the virus can develop “neuroinvasive disease,” which affects the person’s nervous system and can lead to inflammation of vital organs. The CDC pointed out that “less than one percent [of people] who become infected with West Nile virus will develop severe illness — most people who get infected do not develop any disease at all.”
Of the few grave cases, there is a three to 15 percent mortality rate. Symptoms of the virus include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis, said the county. Dr. Tomarken noted the symptoms may last several weeks and individuals 50 years of age and up with compromised immune systems are more at risk for developing a serious case of West Nile Virus.
“We are concerned that new pools of stagnant water that will be left after this storm [Hurricane Earl] may increase the mosquito population and the risk of transmission of the West Nile virus to humans. We urge all residents to remove any stagnant water around their homes as soon as the storm is over,” Dr. Tomarken added.
To reduce the mosquito populations in residential areas, the Department of Health Services urged individuals to eliminate stagnant water by disposing of water-holding containers, remove all discarded tires, properly drain and clean roof gutters, turn over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows, change water in birdbaths, clean vegetation and debris from edges of ponds, keep shrubs and grass trimmed, clean swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs, and drain water from pool covers. Individuals can avoid mosquito bites, the press release continued, by minimizing outdoor activities between dusk and dawn, and wearing shoes, socks, long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outdoors for long periods of time, using bug repellent and screening all windows and doors.
The press release adds that dead birds found on area properties might indicate the presence of the virus. For these instances, the county has a West Nile Virus hotline 787-2200. The Department of Health Services said it will continue to collect insect samples at county and state parks.