With predictions that wet weather will increase the spread of mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus this season, it should come as no surprise that the city has already detected infected insects in Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island.
Spraying was set to begin this week at marsh areas in Alley Pond Park, the abandoned Flushing Airport and Edgemere Park. The city will apply larvicide helicopter in the nonresidential locations because they are common breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
On Monday, the city Department of Health further announced that the potentially deadly virus has been detected in mosquitoes in the Pomonok section of Flushing and a neighborhood on Staten Island.
Mid-August to late September is the peak West Nile virus season, when the most varieties of mosquitoes that carry the disease are active. While a majority of people bitten by such a mosquito will not experience any symptoms and only one in 150 will develop a serious illness, health officials continue to take the virus very seriously.
In older people and those with weak immune symptoms the disease can lead to fatal cases of meningitis or encephalitis. Weaker cases produce mild flu-like symptoms. There is no cure for the virus and only the symptoms can be treated.
What has some health experts concerned this year is the high number of cases already reported throughout the United States by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 5,674. That is the highest number for this time of year since 2003.
No cases have been reported yet for New York State. Human infections so far are from Texas, California, Mississippi, South Dakota and Tennessee.
Many in the health field are blaming the increased number to climate change. They say that global warming can create more mosquito breeding grounds and higher temperatures make the insects more active while others say excess rain actually eliminates the mosquito larvae.
James Cervino, a marine and environmental scientist as well as Community Board 7 environmental chairman, said Monday that increased storm surges and rain, higher temperatures, more hurricane anomalies plus lack of education “are the perfect cocktail for [West Nile virus] outbreaks and deaths related to global warming.”
The College Point scientist expects it to be a very bad year for the virus, “one of the worst,” and urges residents to use insect repellent when outside and remove standing water from their property to prevent the spread of mosquitoes.
Dr. Thomas Farley, the DOH commissioner, agrees, noting that “it is important to take simple precautions to protect you and your family.”
Other tips from the agency include making sure windows have screens and repairing ones with holes; cleaning roof gutters and swimming pools and wearing long sleeves and pants outside, especially when the insects are most active, at dawn and dusk.
Cases of standing water can be reported to the city by calling 311 or visiting nyc.gov.
The virus was discovered in 1999 in College Point when hundreds of dead crows were found throughout Queens. The Queens Chronicle was alerted to the situation and was the first newspaper to write about it.
The birds were an early warning sign because shortly afterward humans got sick. The specific virus, which had never been seen in the Western Hemisphere, was later identified. Following the initial outbreak in Queens, West Nile spread throughout the United States. There were 47 cases in the city that first year and four fatalities, three of them in Queens. Last year, the city reported its second-highest number of cases at 41 with 10 from Queens and six fatalities citywide.
To deter the spread of mosquitoes this year, the city has increased insect surveillance by setting up additional traps and treating catch basins to kill larvae in the Pomonok area.