Suffolk County residents with questions or concerns about certain communicable diseases, particularly Zika, rabies and West Nile viruses, now have a place to get answers.
The county health department has activated its public health information line, 631-787-2200, with Monday through Friday hours of 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Residents particularly concerned about having been exposed to these viruses are encouraged to use the information line, according to a Monday news release.
“Now, as residents head outdoors in the warmer weather, we are ramping up efforts to monitor communicable diseases and keep residents informed about what they can do to protect themselves and their families,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.
While 70 communicable diseases have been designated as reportable by the state sanitary code — meaning health professionals are required to report them to the county health department — those of highest concern are Zika, rabies and West Nile viruses, the release said.
Zika virus is spread mostly through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito, through sexual transmission or blood transfusion, which is why pregnant women and those of childbearing age, as well as their male partners, are especially advised to take steps to avoid mosquito bites. Zika has potential to cause severe birth defects.
While Aedes aegypti mosquitoes have not been found in New York State, the health department said a related species, Aedes albopictus, also known as the Asian tiger, is active in the downstate region, Long Island included, and “may be able to effectively transmit the virus.”
Rabies virus can infect any mammal, which is why companion animals and livestock should be vaccinated. Still, the virus, which can be fatal, is found most often in wild animals, including raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes.
All Suffolk residents are asked to call the information line to report any exposure to bats, be it indoors or outdoors, as well as raccoons that come into contact with humans or pets.
With the March 2016 report of a rabid raccoon in Nassau County, those in the bordering towns of Huntington and Babylon are also asked to call Suffolk’s information line to report raccoons acting in an abnormal way, as well as dead raccoons, other than roadkill.
Residents are asked to call the information line with medical questions and to report sightings of dead birds, such as robins, crows, blue jays and hawks.
West Nile virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito, which itself got the virus from biting an infected bird. An estimated 20 percent of infected humans develop noticeable symptoms, the health department said, though the virus can be fatal, with those over 50 and those with chronic illness or compromised immune systems most at risk.