The New York City Health Department announced on Tuesday that the West Nile virus had been detected in two people, one in Brooklyn and another in Queens, as well as in a “record number” of infected mosquitoes throughout the city.
A total of 54 cases and four deaths have been reported throughout the country this year, according to the health department’s announcement.
In New York, the number of mosquito pools that tested positive for West Nile virus is the “highest number ever recorded” at 1,068 across the five boroughs, compared to 779 positive pools this time last year, the health department said.
Over the past decade, as few as six to as many as 30 people test positive annually, with the death rate at about 14 percent, according to the health department.
Here’s what to know about West Nile virus, the risk factor it poses to New Yorkers and how to stay protected:
What are the risks?
The West Nile virus is spread through a bite from an infected mosquito and can infect humans, birds and other mammals. It cannot be spread from person to person through causal contact, according to health officials.
What are the symptoms and treatments?
Most people who are infected by West Nile virus do not develop any symptoms or may experience mild to moderate illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About one in five develop a fever, along with other symptoms like headaches, body aches, joint pains, diarrhea, vomiting or a rash, according to the C.D.C.
And about one in 150 people infected develop severe illness. Symptoms include high fever, headaches, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, vision loss or paralysis.
Those over 60 are at the highest risk for severe illness, according to health officials. The median age of people with positive cases in New York City is 62. Those with certain medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes and hypertension, can also be at a higher risk for severe illness.
Recovery from a severe case of West Nile can take anywhere from several weeks to months, but central nervous system damage can be permanent.
A blood test can be conducted to determine a West Nile infection.
There are no vaccines or medicines that specifically treat West Nile virus infections. Over-the-counter pain relievers can be used to help with some symptoms and hospitalization may be necessary for more severe cases.
How to protect yourself
The New York City Health Department suggests using approved insect repellents that contain picaridin, which can be applied directly on skin and clothing. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also has a list of suggested repellents.
Mosquitoes are most active from April to October, so limiting outdoor activities during those seasons particularly at dawn and dusk can also reduce the risk of contracting the virus. When outdoors, health officials suggest wearing protective clothing during the evenings. They also recommend avoiding dark-colored clothing during the day, shaded areas where mosquitoes lay eggs during the day and applying perfumes, colognes and scented body lotions.
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