New York fighting mosquitoes and West Nile virus

Brown water rippled across a sludgy puddle, about 20 yards wide, along a walkway in Prospect Park. Hundreds of insects dotted the surface.

Mosquitoes in the area, New York City officials announced last week, had shown traces of West Nile virus. But 17-month-old Yugo Wu, tottering toward the sunlit spot, could not be persuaded to find another playground.

“They said maybe you shouldn’t go to the park,” his mother, Akiko Furukawa, said as her son dipped a shoe in the puddle.

She shrugged, closing in to scoop up Yugo. Maybe next time, she said, she and Yugo will be more careful.

Last week, days after one of the largest rainfalls in New York City history, testing by the health department identified West Nile virus in mosquitoes across 33 city ZIP codes, in every borough except Manhattan. The city’s first human case of the virus this season, in a 64-year-old Manhattan woman, was also confirmed last week, the department said. The woman, who was hospitalized in early August, is recovering.

The findings of West Nile, not to mention all the swatting and the itching, have presented many New Yorkers with a summer quandary: Is a two-milligram insect really going to ruin a perfectly beautiful August day?

“We have kids; this is when they play,” David Coun, 40, said on the steps of his home near the park. “I don’t know that we’re ready to start sequestering ourselves.”

With pools of standing water, the breeding grounds of mosquitoes, filling the city after the recent storms, the health department has warned residents — especially those over 50 — to take extra precautions during nighttime hours, and especially at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes do most of their feeding.

The city has spread insecticide by truck and helicopter on many of the affected areas in recent days. State Senator Martin J. Golden has called for increased spraying in some Brooklyn neighborhoods, reasoning that August vacationers could leave standing water on their properties for weeks.

But the species of mosquitoes that tend to breed in rain water are not those most responsible for the spread of West Nile virus, said Dr. Waheed K. Bajwa, executive director of the health department’s Office of Vector Surveillance and Control.

“There are more and more breeding grounds, so the population will go up,” Dr. Bajwa said of mosquitoes in general. “But this is not going to impact mosquitoes which are responsible for the transmission of the disease.”

Residents from affected areas, swatting at the mosquitoes charging at their legs, did not discriminate among the species. Christine Skinner, 26, from Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, said she had never seen such swarms in the city.

“I wake up itching,” Ms. Skinner said, clapping a mosquito dead on her stoop. Still, she said, she was undeterred and carrying on as usual for the summer — with shorts, outdoor meals and park visits with the children.

Sharon Levy, 33, from Kensington, Brooklyn, said her children had been bitten at their grandmother’s home in nearby South Slope last week. A standing kiddie pool, she said, had most likely been responsible for attracting the insects.

On Monday, she watched her son and daughter, ages 6 and 3, navigate the hill overlooking the puddle in Prospect Park.

“I was concerned about it,” she said of the West Nile reports. “I might move away from the flooded pond.”

Before she could, the boy, Henry Daillie, made a beeline for the water. Ms. Levy called him back, asking him to show off the mosquitoes’ handiwork.

“Look,” he said gleefully, lifting his lime green polo shirt. “I have, like, 11 bites.”

Source: NY TIMES

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