West Nile virus has been found in Suffolk County for the first time this year in four mosquito samples, county health officials said in advising the public to take precautions.
The samples that tested positive were collected July 2 and 3 from East Northport, Blydenburgh County Park in Smithtown, Belmont Lake State Park in North Babylon and Heckscher State Park in East Islip, the health department said in a news release.
West Nile virus is transmitted to people through mosquito bites, but no one has tested positive this year, authorities said. The disease can also strike horses, but there is no confirmed case this year, they said.
“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," said Dr. James Tomarken, the county health commissioner.
Many people already have the virus in their bodies but don't know it because the symptoms are mild or nonexistent, experts said.
But severe symptoms and even death can develop. Problems can include high fever, coma, vision loss, paralysis, numbness, muscle weakness, neck stiffness, headaches, tremors, convulsions, stupor and disorientation, county health officials said. Symptoms can last weeks and neurological effects may be permanent, they said.
People who have compromised immune systems face the most risk, and they, along with people who are at least 50 years old, should take precautions against mosquitoes, the health department said.
To avoid mosquito bites, people should minimize outdoor activities between dusk and dawn; wear shoes, socks, long pants and long-sleeved shirts when mosquitoes are active; use mosquito repellent; and make sure windows and doors have screens.
To deter mosquitoes from laying eggs in and outside homes, make weekly checks to empty, turn over, cover or throw out containers that can hold water, such as vases, pet water bowls, flowerpot saucers, discarded tires, pool covers, birdbaths and trash cans, the health department suggested.
The virus was first detected in birds and mosquito samples in Suffolk County in 1999 and every year since, the county said.
Dead birds may indicate the presence of the virus, and health officials ask the public to report dead birds on the public health information line 631-852-5999 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. Health officials also encourage people to photograph the bird in question.
To report mosquito problems or stagnant pools of water, call the Department of Public Works’ vector control division at 631-852-4270.
More information and the county's downloadable brochure in English or Spanish, “Get the Buzz on Mosquito Protection,” is available at the health department website, http://www.suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/HealthServices/PublicHealth/PreventiveServices/ArthropodborneDiseaseProgram/Mosquitoes.aspx.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the date the mosquitoes were collected because of incorrect information from the health department.