West Nile — it almost sounds like something that should be on VH1’s I Love the ’90s — but it’s still among us and it can be dreadful, especially for those on either side of the age spectrum. The disease, first found in the U.S. in 1999, is at its highest levels in New York since 2000. There have been 13 confirmed human cases so far this season, and the risk extends until October.
We surfed WebMD (the scariest website ever) to find the symptoms of the virus. Turns out, some people don’t even know they have it, while others experience a headache, loss of appetite, nausea, a rash, or other mild symptoms. But here’s the part that will have you running to buy bug spray and a bed net:
In rare cases, West Nile can lead to swelling of the brain (encephalitis), swelling of the spinal cord (myelitis), or swelling of the tissues around the brain and spinal cord (meningitis).
But permanent problems such as seizures, memory loss, and brain damage can occur, especially in children and older people. As you get older, you have a higher risk for getting encephalitis and other serious problems from West Nile. Of the people who have serious problems, those older than age 70 have the biggest risk of dying from them.3 In a few cases, West Nile can be fatal.
We asked the Health Department, “Why us? Why now?”
A representative explained that the ungodly heat we’ve experienced has exacerbated the problem. Hot, dry weather means increased occurrences of West Nile, but the Health Department has a method of attack: if you see stagnant water, say something — to 311. Seriously, the city is testing pools of stagnant water for West Nile and is spraying mosquitoes and their larva to keep the problem from reaching bedbug proportions.
We also asked whether the bedbug problem or the West Nile issue is a worse plague, but the Health Department told us it’s like comparing apples to oranges. “I’m not going to say which one I think is worse…It’s not something I’m going to speculate on,” a representative said, though we wouldn’t doubt that a version of ‘Would You Rather’ is an ongoing game in the Health Department.
Well, here’s our take: West Nile only harshly effects a small percentage of the population; bedbugs are a true terror for everyone. West Nile can kill you; bedbugs cannot. So, we’ll call it a tie, for what its worth. Not that there’s a competition among pests, because if there were, skunks would win.
A surprising factoid about West Nile in the City — Staten Island has had the most reported cases this year, by a close margin. Maybe more people have swimming pools there — stagnant water, etc.
Most importantly, here’s what you can do to stop it from invading your neighborhood and your loved ones.
From the Health Department:
• Use an approved insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (not for children under three), or products that contain the active ingredient IR3535.
• Make sure windows have screens, and repair or replace screens that have tears or holes.
• Eliminate any standing water from your property, and dispose of containers that can collect water. Standing water is a violation of the New York City Health Code.
• Make sure roof gutters are clean and draining properly.
• Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs. Keep them empty and covered if not in use; drain water that collects in pool covers.
• Report standing water by calling 311 or visiting http://www.nyc.gov/health/wnv.
Good luck, everyone. Between this and bedbugs, we fear the food chain is a-changin’.