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Smithtown resident contracts West Nile virus, Suffolk health officials say

A culex pipiens, one of the mosquitos that

A culex pipiens, one of the mosquitos that transmits West Nile virus and lives on Long Island. Credit: USGS

A Town of Smithtown resident is recovering from the West Nile virus, Suffolk County health officials said Tuesday, marking the third human case reported in the county this season.

The person is under age 60 and developed symptoms last month, according to a statement from the county health commissioner's office. The person is recovering in a rehabilitation center, the statement said.   

West Nile virus is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. Health officials estimate that about one in five people who are infected develop a fever with other symptoms such as headaches, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or a rash. Most people recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months.

However, severe illness can occur in people of any age, health officials say, with people over 60 and anyone with certain medical conditions at greater risk. About one in 10 people who develop severe illness affecting the central nervous system die. 

Last month, Health Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken reported two cases of the virus in people from the Town of Islip. Both people developed symptoms in August and continue to recover at home.

Health officials advise that during mosquito season — summer through fall — residents use Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellents. Additionally, they suggest avoiding outdoors from dusk to dawn, when most mosquitoes are active; wearing long sleeves and long pants when nighttime activity is unavoidable; and eliminating standing water from flowerpots, clogged gutters, birdbaths and other places near the home. 

In Nassau County, the health department conducts mosquito surveillance at 42 trap sites throughout the county. Activities include investigating all cases of suspected or confirmed West Nile virus, Zika virus, and other mosquito-borne diseases to determine the source of infection, according to the department's web page.

The number of human cases of West Nile virus varies each year, health officials say. Suffolk County reported 11 cases last year. 

“There is no discernible trend,” Suffolk's Tomarken said. “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 can call the county Health Department at 631-854-0333. To report mosquito problems or stagnant pools of water, call 631-852-4270. In Nassau, call the mosquito surveillance unit at 516-572-1211, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 3:45 p.m.

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