West Nile Virus Here

East Hampton mosquito tested positive last month

A mosquito collected in East Hampton has tested positive for West Nile virus, according to James Tomarken, the commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, who made the announcement on Friday. 

The East Hampton mosquito was the first found to be infected here this year and one of 12 taken from July 23 through 29 to test positive. So far this year 35 infected mosquitoes have been collected across the county. To date, no human cases have been reported.

West Nile virus, first detected in birds and mosquitoes in Suffolk County in 1999 and each year thereafter, is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. 

“The confirmation of West Nile virus in mosquito samples or birds indicates the presence of West Nile virus in the area,” Dr. Tomarken said in a statement on Friday. “While there is no cause for alarm, we advise residents to cooperate with us in our efforts to reduce the exposure to the virus, which can be debilitating to humans.” 

To keep mosquitoes from laying eggs inside and outside of residences and thereby reduce the possibility of mosquito bites, residents have been advised that at least once a week they should empty and scrub, turn over, cover, or throw out containers that hold water, such as vases, pets’ water bowls, flower pot saucers, discarded tires, buckets, pool covers, birdbaths, trash cans, and rain barrels.

To avoid the possibility of mosquito bites, residents have been advised to minimize outdoor activities between dusk and dawn; wear shoes and socks, long pants, and long-sleeve shirts when mosquitoes are active; use mosquito repellent, following label directions carefully, and make sure all windows and doors have screens in good repair. Individuals most at risk, particularly those who are 50 or older or have compromised immune systems, have been urged to take extra precautions.

Most people infected with West Nile will experience mild or no symptoms, but some can 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 have neurological effects that may be permanent. 

The county announcement warned that dead birds might indicate the presence of West Nile virus. To report dead birds, the public has been asked to call the county’s public health information line at 631-852-5999 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Residents also have been encouraged to take a photograph of any dead bird.

The county applies methoprene, a mosquito larvicide, and Bti, a biological agent, over marsh areas on Napeague and Beach Hampton, in Amagansett, as well as at Accabonac Harbor. Methoprene’s use is controversial, however; while county officials have long insisted it is not harmful to nontarget species, others disagree. 

In an effort to reduce methoprene’s use, the East Hampton Town Trustees and the Nature Conservancy launched a pilot program to quantify mosquito larvae at Accabonac Harbor this year. The county decides whether or not to apply methoprene based on those results. 

The program should continue despite the appearance of a West Nile-infected mosquito in East Hampton, said Nicole Maher, a senior coastal scientist with the Nature Conservancy. “It doesn’t change our program, it just makes it more important that we collect this real-time and spatially important data on mosquito breeding,” Dr. Maher said. “The collaboration between the Nature Conservancy, vector control, and the trustees has been a really positive experience so far, reducing the number of times that vector control needed to spray, reducing the number of areas they needed to spray, and increasing trust and transparency among the various stakeholders.”

Susan McGraw Keber, a trustee who participates in the weekly sampling, agreed. “My goal as a trustee and resident . . . is to eradicate all spraying of methoprene,” she said yesterday. “That’s why I got involved in this. Accabonac and water is very precious. I feel a sense of duty to stop chemicals in our waters.”

To report mosquito problems or stagnant pools of water that residents cannot remediate themselves, they have been asked to call the Department of Public Works Vector Control Division at 631-852-4270. A county informational brochure, “Get the Buzz on Mosquito Protection,” is available in English and Spanish at suffolkcountyny.gov.