As the summer season enters into full swing, the risk of contracting mosquito-borne infections, like West Nile virus, dramatically increases. To reduce harm to residents, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services is urging residents to call in to the West Nile hotline.
So far this summer, the virus has been identified in a crow in Northport and in a sample mosquito pool test in Islip.
Residents are asked to call in to the Department of Health Services’ Public Health Hotline at (631) 787-2200, Monday through Friday between 9 a.m and 4 p.m. if they spot dead birds in their community. Calls made during non-business hours may be left on the phone answering machine.
“Although most people experience no symptoms from West Nile virus,” said Dr. James Tomarken, commissioner of the SCDHS, "some people will develop severe symptoms including high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. The symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent,” he said.
Birds that are prone to being bit by infected mosquitoes that could indicate the presence of the virus in a given area include crows, blue jays, hawks, falcons, owls, exotic or unusual bird species. If a resident spots a dead bird of the mentioned kinds, or peculiar circumstances such as die-offs of multiple birds, they are urged to take action from a safe distance by calling in the sighting.
West Nile virus was first detected in Suffolk County in 1999. It is estimated that 20 percent of those who become infected will develop some form of West Nile illness. Mild symptoms include fever, headache, body aches and occasionally a skin rash and swollen lymph glands. It can lead to West Nile encephalitis or meningitis with severe symptoms including high fever, muscle weakness, stupor and disorientation.
Since 2001, when the first human case of West Nile virus was identified in Suffolk County, there have been nearly four dozen human cases and several deaths attributed to the disease.
In addition to spotting dead birds that may be carrying the disease, residents are encouraged to take precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes by making sure windows and door screens do not have holes and tears, trimming overgrown bushes and making sure that stagnant water does not accumulate in bird baths, empty flower pots, abandoned tires or chair cushions. Dump water in children’s pools immediately after use and avoid going outdoors from dusk to dawn – peak mosquito-biting hours. Residents who do go outside at these times of day should wear shoes, socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Insect repellent containing DEET has been proven to be most effective at reducing mosquito bites, assuming they are applied according to manufacturer’s instructions.
For further information on West Nile virus, visit the Department of Health Services’ web site at www.suffolkcountyny.gov/health or call (631) 853-3055.