After a deep, extended stretch of cold weather, residents of Queens will welcome warm, sunny, seasonal days in the event they ever break out in the Northeastern United States this year.
But healthcare officials are warning those who suffer from allergies or tend to attract mosquitoes to be prepared for the effects of the protracted, difficult winter.
“The predictions, based on what I am reading, are that this could be one of the worst allergy seasons ever,” said Dr. Alan Roth, chairman of family medicine and ambulatory care at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center.
Roth said that seasonal allergy patients began coming in early this month. His colleagues in the field are saying that the extended winter conditions have caused some plants to delay when they come into bloom.
“Based on the winter you have, the changeover can be gradual, releasing less pollen and fewer histamines,” Roth said.
But extended winter conditions that delay flowering in some plants that normally do so early in the spring could be leading this year to more types of plants coming into bloom at one time.
“That could mean a really severe allergy season,” he said.
But Roth also said that better medications for helping people deal with their allergies are becoming more available.
“Antihistamines will treat symptoms,” he said. “But now there are some nasal steroids that have become available over the counter that treat the actual inflammation caused by inhaled allergens.”
The damp conditions also are a bad portent for those suffering from mold allergies.
As for mosquitoes, Roth said long, severe cold stretches can and do kill off mosquito eggs.
But he also said the amount of snow and rain could establish excellent breeding grounds this spring in places where standing water is allowed to accumulate.
“When we warn people about (mosquito-borne) West Nile virus, we tell them to remove standing water,” he said. “That’s where they breed — puddles, buckets, planters, old tires, anywhere that water can sit after it rains.”
Statistics provided by the state’s Department of Health say that there have been 490 human cases of WNV and 37 deaths reported statewide since 2000.
Eastern equine encephalitis, also transmitted by mosquitoes, is very rare but serious. Between five and 10 human cases are reported in the country each year.
Five cases of EEE in people in New York State have been reported since 1971. These cases were reported in 1971, 1983, 2009, 2010 and 2011 and occurred in Oswego and Onondaga counties. All five patients died.
The risk of getting EEE is highest from late July through September. People at the greatest risk of developing a severe case of the disease are those over 50 years of age and younger than 15 years of age.
People with mild cases of EEE and WNV usually recover completely.
The New York State DOH’s website says there are no human vaccines for EEE or WNV, and that prevention of mosquito bites is the most effective way to reduce risk.
The state recommends several steps for reducing mosquito exposure, including:
• Cover your skin as completely as possible if outside when mosquitoes are present and active; wear long sleeves, pants and socks;
• Use insect repellent on exposed skin and follow label directions;
• Make sure there are screens in your home’s windows and doors, and make sure they are free of rips, tears and holes; and
• As Dr. Roth and his colleagues recommend, remove or drain all standing water around your home and property, thus depriving mosquitoes of a place to breed and lay their eggs.