According to new reports, West Nile Virus has been found in mosquitoes around the city, notably in southwest Brooklyn and Staten Island. This isn’t a new phenomenon for New York; the first U.S. cases of West Nile ever reported were on Staten Island in 1999, and every summer since then a few news reports pop up about WNV-bearing mosquitoes, sometimes in NYC, sometimes not. This time West Nile was discovered in mosquito pools but not in humans, and according to the Department of Health spraying already took place in parts of Greenwood Heights, Park Slope and Windsor Terrace. This year we’re wondering just how concerned one should get about West Nile in the vicinity. We have to replace bed bug panic with something else at some point. Sorry, did we say panic?
Since the virus first appeared in America, 240 New Yorkers have contracted the disease, 37 of whom were in Brooklyn and 96 (!) of whom were in Queens. According to the CDC, “The severe symptoms can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent.” But those occur only in a small number of people. For most others, symptoms can be very mild or just not show up at all, as is the case with 80% of people who contract the virus.
“There’s no way of predicting who will come down with symptoms,” said mosquito expert Joe Conlon of the American Mosquito Control Association. “They used to think, the very young and very old, and they’re more at risk of becoming very ill if they contract it, but in all likelihood they’re not more at risk of contracting.”
Conlon pointed out that controlling the virus in New York is more challenging than elsewhere: “It’s more of a logistical problem than a hazard problem. Just logistically it’s extremely difficult to do aerial spraying in a city,” he said. He thinks New York may have been the first city to have WNV due in part to its underwhelming (at the time) mosquito control operations.
“There are political considerations involved,” Conlon said. “By way of example: if West Nile occurred here in Florida, we’d spray it immediately. Whereas in Brooklyn, you’re just not used to seeing spray trucks so there’s an understandable mistrust.”
According to the DOH website, spraying is happening today and tomorrow in Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx. But, like with STD’s, the important thing is prevention: wear bug spray, don’t keep standing water around (the DOH reminds us to change our birdbath water, as if all of us have birdbaths, which assumes that most of us even have somewhere to put a birdbath in the first place), tuck your pants into your socks and wear one of those beekeeper outfits. Just kidding about the last two. Although it couldn’t hurt.