Although the city Department of Health is not taking credit for it, cases of the West Nile virus are down significantly this year and there have been no deaths.
With any virus, the number of cases can wax and wane from year to year and there are other factors involved such as the weather. But there’s no denying that the city’s assault on the disease-bearing mosquitoes has paid off.
Though the West Nile virus season won’t end until the first frost, the peak months have passed with only four cases in the entire city, all in Staten Island. Last year, the city reported 41 cases and six deaths.
Since the virus was first discovered in the United States in College Point in 1999, the lowest numbers of cases were in 2009 with three and 2004 with five. There were no fatalities those years either.
DOH officials say temperature and rainfall are factors and cooler years tend to produce lower mosquito counts.
Despite the low number of cases this year, Queens, ironically, had the largest number of mosquito pools with 122, followed by Brooklyn with 45, Staten Island, 43, the Bronx, 11, and Manhattan 8.
When there is an increase in infected mosquitoes within a pool, the city usually sprays the area. This year, the DOH added nine new mosquito trapping sites throughout the city and tried to increase public awareness in the at-risk neighborhoods through fliers and in announcements in newspapers and television.
Perhaps because of the publicity, it appeared that the city did more spraying than usual, but DOH officials say that is not the case. They report fewer sprayings this year compared to 2012 and overall fewer mosquito pools testing positive.
Since the virus originated in Queens 14 years ago, the city has taken an aggressive, proactive approach to deal with the virus, which can be deadly. There were 47 cases that year with four deaths, most of them from Queens. The agency continues to instruct the public about how to prevent the spread of mosquitoes on their property and how to protect themselves from bites.
Precautions include using insect repellent when going outdoors, especially at dawn and dusk when the mosquitoes are most active; wearing long sleeves and long pants when outdoors; repairing screens; and emptying standing water from pools, flowerpots, buckets and other outdoor areas where water can accumulate.
But not all mosquitoes carry the virus, so there’s no need to panic.
Aside from spraying known breeding sites, the DOH applies larvicides to kill the immature form of the mosquito to areas of standing water that cannot be drained completely such as in parks and marsh areas and regularly tests mosquitoes throughout the spring and summer.
Approximately one in five people who are infected with the virus will develop flu-like symptoms with less than 1 percent developing a serious neurological illness such as encephalitis or meningitis, which can be fatal.
Following the initial outbreak in 1999, the virus has spread throughout the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent statistics show a total of 44 deaths and 1,135 cases, which is up significantly from last year. California reported the most fatalities with six and Colorado has had the most cases with 197.
Last year, around this time, the CDC reported 390 cases nationwide and eight deaths.