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First human case of West Nile virus reported in Suffolk County

A culex pipiens, one of the mosquitoes that

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

A Babylon resident is the first person in Suffolk County to fall ill with the West Nile virus this year, the county's health commissioner said Wednesday.

The individual, who is older than 55, has been hospitalized since Aug. 19, the commissioner, Dr. James Tomarken, said in a statement.

“There is no discernible trend,” Tomarken said. And the county cannot be sure it knows of all the cases because some people are untreated or do not receive the laboratory tests that would confirm whether they have the virus, which can prove fatal, he said.

Last year, there were seven cases in Suffolk, Tomarken said. There were five cases in both 2015 and in 2016, but only one in 2014, he said.

Four people came down with the virus in 2013. The previous year saw an increase: 14 people fell ill in 2012. In 2011, however, there were only four cases. But in 2010, when three people died, there were 25 cases, Tomarken said.

The virus, in its milder form, can cause fever, head and body aches, skin rashes and swollen lymph glands, the commissioner said. The virus also can cause neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis, according to Tomarken.

Anyone who experiences these symptoms should seek medical care. There is no specific treatment, but doctors can provide supportive therapy, he said.

People who are older than 50 are most at risk of developing a severe infection, along with anyone whose immune system is compromised or who suffers from a chronic illness, Tomarken said.

These groups should protect themselves from mosquitoes from June 1 through Nov. 1 by using insect repellents containing DEET; spraying clothing with repellent containing permethrin; avoiding going outside 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, recycling bins, birdbaths, toys, swimming pool and hot tub covers. 

Anyone with medical questions about the virus can call the county Department of Health Services at 631-854-0333.

To report mosquito problems or stagnant pools of water, call the county Department of Public Works’ Vector Control Division at 631-852-4270.