Hordes of Mosquitoes Are Slowly Killing NYC Residents With West Nile Virus
USA — September 6, 2018
Summer may be coming to a close, but New York City has not yet seen the end of mosquito season.
According to a recent study, steamy temperatures have helped keep the buzzing bloodsuckers active and breeding -- extending mosquito season, and allowing them to carry and transmit the West Nile virus across the city.
"The hot weather does have an impact," said Mario Merlino, assistant commissioner at the city Health Department’s Bureau of Veterinary and Pest Control Services. "We have an extensive network of traps in the city. We are looking for [West Nile virus] positive mosquitoes everywhere."
West Nile virus is potentially deadly, especially for people over 50 years of age and those with compromised immune systems. At its worst, the virus causes encephalitis and meningitis. Although sometimes contact with such mosquitoes may cause symptoms such as fever, headache, and fatigue.
So far this season, eight New Yorkers have tested positive for the virus. Six developed serious symptoms, while two suffered mild or moderate related illnesses. Three other people showed no symptoms, but the virus was discovered when they donated their blood. One person was near death after being bitten by a mosquito. He is now under quarantine, with doctors are struggling to save his life.
The virus has been identified in mosquito pools in all five boroughs, with the highest numbers in Queens and Staten Island.
Despite the fact that no deaths have been recorded, health officials are urging New York residents to stay watchful, use insect repellent, drain standing water and wear long sleeves and pants in the evening and early morning hours when mosquitoes are most active.
The city continues to inform the public about the virus at community events.
Mosquito season is generally April through October, although numbers dwidle as the nights become colder, nonetheless, it is not unusual to see the hearty insects in November.
“Mosquitoes can hang on longer than you think,” said Stephen Morse, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “This isn’t the time to become complacent.”
Morse added that migrating birds may also be an important factor in the transmission of the virus.
“Culex pipiens (the mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus) really prefer birds,” he said. “When the birds go, the mosquitoes concentrate on us.”
The mosquito-borne virus first made headlines when it was discovered in Queens in 1999. It has since spread throughout the country with health officials creating a complex annual monitoring system. The city treats breeding areas by periodically spraying pesticides from trucks.
“When we do find positive mosquitoes in a trap, we put supplemental traps around it,” said Merlino. “We don’t want to spray areas that don’t need to be treated.”
Despite a spike in mosquito-borne diseases during the Zika virus outbreak several years ago, most New Yorkers are taking the annual West Nile threat in stride.