New York City is being visited by some unwanted tourists this summer: mosquitos riddled with the West Nile virus. A record number of mosquitos infected with the virus have been detected across all five boroughs of NYC and at least two people have fallen sick with the infection, according to the NYC Health Department.
Health authorities placed mosquito traps across the city and found a total of 1,068 positive mosquito pools across the five boroughs – the highest number ever recorded – compared to 779 positive pools detected in 2021. The number of mosquitos found in each pool was also higher than last year.
Despite its name, the West Nile virus is commonly found in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and West Asia. It unexpectedly arrived in the US around 1999 and went on to infect some 51,702 Americans in 20 years.
Nevertheless, the rising presence of the mosquito-borne virus in NYC is surprising. Over the past two decades, the majority of West Nile virus activity has been found in the warmer southern states, such as California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. While cases have been seen in NYC before, the rise in number of mosquitos infected with the virus could be a cause for concern.
The reason behind the uptick in infected mosquitos wasn’t discussed by the NYC Health Department, but it’s noteworthy that the city was scorched by a historic heat wave in July, creating balmy temperatures that mosquitos thrive in.
Around 80 percent of people infected with the West Nile virus do not develop any symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Around 20 percent will experience an unpleasant but relatively mild illness consisting of a fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or a rash.
However, around 1 in 150 people will develop a severe illness affecting the central nervous system, involving brain inflammation or meningitis. This severe illness is fatal in around 10 percent of cases.
To make matters worse, there are currently no vaccines or medicines available for West Nile virus infection. There are, however, a few things you can do to reduce the risk of being bitten and, in turn, lower the odds of catching the virus.
“We are in the height of West Nile virus season, but there are things you can do to decrease your risk of being bitten,” Dr Ashwin Vasan, Health Commissioner, said in a statement.
“Use an EPA registered insect repellent, wear long sleeves and pants, especially when outside at dusk and dawn when the types of mosquitoes that transmit WNV are most active. In addition, you can stop mosquitoes from laying eggs in the water by emptying outdoor containers that hold water or calling 311 if you see standing water that you cannot empty. Help keep you and your loved ones safe with these actions during WNV season,” explained Vasan.