West Nile Found on Long Island

Health commissioner offers tips to avoid contaminated mosquitoes
Standing water in flower pots, garden receptacles, and even kayak seats can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes infected with the West Nile virus. Janis Hewitt

    The hurricane expected to blow through Long Island this weekend might be good for one thing — blowing away the mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus, which could prompt closures of several county and state parks on Long Island from dusk to dawn through Labor Day.
    Some 50 samples in Suffolk County have tested positive for the virus, carried primarily by the common house mosquito, which breeds on the population it bites and needs a blood meal to produce eggs. One person so far has been infected by the virus. Though not considered serious, it can cause death in some extreme cases, according to Suffolk County Health Commissioner James Tomarken, who began sending out press releases on the virus last Thursday.
    “The confirmation of West Nile virus in a mosquito pool indicates the virus is actively circulating within the mosquito population,” Dr. Tomarken said in the release. He explained that a Huntington resident under 55 had come down with the telltale symptoms — fever, chills, body aches, and swollen lymph nodes — and was diagnosed with the virus. The illness lasted five days and hospitalization was not required. The person has since recovered.
    “While there is no cause for alarm, we urge residents to cooperate with us in our efforts to contain the spread of the virus, which can be debilitating to humans,” Dr. Tomarken said.
    The virus was identified in 1999 and has been found each year since. It is transmitted though the bite of an infected mosquito. It is estimated that 20 percent of those who get bitten will come down with noticeable symptoms of the virus.
    Mosquito traps are placed in many locations throughout Nassau and Suffolk Counties, regardless of jurisdiction by county, state, or town, said Grace Kelly-McGovern, a Health Department spokeswoman. They are put out at night and collected the following morning, about once a week.
    The samples are collected by scientists with the Department of Health Services’ arthropod-borne division and sent to a New York State lab for testing. A ration of dead birds in one area indicates the mosquitoes in that area are carrying the virus, Ms. Kelly-McGovern said.
    Several years ago, police officers visited each of the 17 houses in the Camp Hero neighborhood in Montauk to warn people that positive samples had been found in the area. Camp Hero is the closest residential development to the Montauk Point State Park.
    The park at Camp Hero and the Montauk Lighthouse grounds were closed at dusk each night and reopened at 8 a.m. the following morning until the risk was considered past.
    There are no numbers available for how many traps are set between Southampton and Montauk. They are usually set out and moved according to the Health Department’s findings, said the spokeswoman.
    The mosquito season runs from June 1 to Nov. 1. The health commissioner recommends avoiding the outdoors from dusk to dawn or wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants during those hours and using bug repellent.
    After a heavy rainfall, he advises emptying all standing water from flower pots, tin cans, birdbaths, and other receptacles to reduce mosquito breeding around the home. Dead birds found on a property may have been infected, and the commissioner recommends calling the Department of Public Works at 787-2200 to report them.