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Deadly virus found in mosquito sample is an 'imminent threat' to public health, Suffolk says

The virus may be transmitted to humans by

The virus may be transmitted to humans by other mosquitoes that fed on infected birds, Health Commissioner James Tomarken said. Photo Credit: Danielle Silverman

Suffolk County is asking New York State to "confirm a declaration of an Imminent Threat to Public Health" after a local mosquito sample tested positive for a rare and possibly deadly virus, county health officials said Thursday.

State health officials told their counterparts in Suffolk on Thursday that the July 31 sample taken from "the Manorville area" contained Eastern Equine Encephalitis, a virus that can cause fatal brain swelling in humans if bitten by mosquitoes carrying it, according to a county news release.

The county is seeking the imminent threat declaration so that it can ramp up mosquito control measures.

The illness is uncommon in humans, with only seven cases a year reported on average in the United States, and no human cases on record in Suffolk County, the release said.

“The reason EEE is less common in humans is that the primary mosquito vector, Culiseta melanura, does not typically feed on humans,” Suffolk's Health Services Commissioner James Tomarken said in a statement. “However, the virus may be transmitted to humans and horses by bridge vectors, which are other kinds of mosquitoes that have contracted the virus by feeding on infected birds.”

The virus is more common and deadly  in horses, with 107 reported cases in the United States in 2018, the release said. While horses are routinely vaccinated against the virus, no such vaccine exists for humans.

Another eight mosquito samples collected in late July throughout Suffolk have tested positive for West Nile virus, according to the county. That virus can cause mild to severe symptoms, such as fever and vomiting, and has "no specific treatment," according to the county.

Health officials are urging residents to take precautions against mosquito exposure by wearing long-sleeved clothes, limiting time outside overnight and getting rid of standing water around their property.

The county is also asking residents to report dead birds, a possible sign of West Nile virus, by calling its Public Health Information Line at 631-787-2200.

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