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Suffolk Health Commissioner Reports Human Cases of West Nile Virus

  • 17 September 2019
  • Number of views: 759
  • Categories: Health

Suffolk County Commissioner of Health Services Dr. James Tomarken today reported two cases of West Nile virus in Suffolk County, the first cases reported this season. Both individuals are over the age of 50 and live in the Town of Islip.

The first individual developed symptoms in mid-August and was hospitalized for several days before being discharged. The second individual became ill in late August, was hospitalized with West Nile encephalitis and has recently been discharged to recover at home.

West Nile virus is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. It is estimated that 20 percent of those who become infected will develop clinically noticeable symptoms of West Nile virus disease. About 1 in 5 people who are infected develop a fever with other symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. Most people with this type of West Nile virus disease recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months.

Severe illness can occur in people of any age; however, people over 60 years of age are at greater risk. People with certain medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, and people who have received organ transplants, are also at greater risk. Recovery from severe illness might take several weeks or months. Some effects on the central nervous system might be permanent. About 1 out of 10 people who develop severe illness affecting the central nervous system die.

While there is no specific treatment for West Nile virus, patients are treated with supportive therapy as needed.

Cases of WNV occur during mosquito season, which starts in the summer and continues through fall.

Residents are advised to use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents* during this season. When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Additionally, avoid going outside from dusk to dawn when most mosquitoes are active, wear long sleeves and long pants when night-time activity is unavoidable, eliminate standing water from flowerpots, clogged gutters, recycle bins, birdbaths, toys, swimming pool, and hot tub covers. 

The number of human cases of West Nile virus varies each year. Suffolk County reported 11 cases in 2018, seven in 2017, five cases in both 2016 and 2015, one in 2014, five in 2013, 14 in 2012, four in 2011, and 25 in 2010.  

“There is no discernible trend,” said Dr. Tomarken. “We know only about the cases in which the patient sought treatment and we received laboratory confirmation of West Nile virus. There may be many more residents who acquired West Nile virus, but we never learned about them because they didn’t seek medical attention or they sought attention but lab tests weren’t ordered.”

Individuals who have medical questions related to West Nile virus may call the Department of Health Services: 631-854-0333.

To report mosquito problems or stagnant pools of water, call the Department of Public Works’ Vector Control Division at 631-852-4270.

*Follow label instructions. Consult healthcare provider before using insect repellent on young children.

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