West Nile virus was detected in two people across the five boroughs as a "record number" of mosquitoes were found to be carrying the virus, the city health department said Tuesday.
The human infections included one each in Brooklyn and Queens, the health department said, bringing the nationwide count to 54 cases so far this year with four deaths. West Nile virus activity has been steadily rising citywide with more than 1,000 positive mosquito pools detected — the highest number ever recorded — compared to 779 at this point last year, the health department said.
“We are in the height of West Nile virus season, but there are things you can do to decrease your risk of being bitten,” Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said in a statement recommending people take preventative measures like using insect repellents registered with the Environmental Protection Agency and avoiding standing water.
According to the Department of Health, an average of 16 people each year have been diagnosed with West Nile neuroinvasive disease in New York City, with a median age of 62. Roughly 14% of those cases resulted in death, the city said.
Experts have connected the steadily rising levels of mosquito activity with ever-rising temperatures related to climate change. The number of illnesses reported from mosquito, tick, or flea bites more than doubled between 2004 and 2018, with more than 760,000 cases reported in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In September of last year, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer announced efforts of his own to increase CDC funding to combat rising mosquito populations and increase public awareness.
“Ask any outdoor diner about the mosquitoes this summer, and you’ll feel a resounding itch,” Schumer said in a statement last year. “Even more concerning, pools of the potentially deadly mosquito-borne disease, West Nile virus, continue to grow, and this could last well into fall because of a very wet summer and climate change."
Those infected with West Nile virus could range anywhere from showing no symptoms at all to exhibiting a headache, fever, muscle aches, and extreme fatigue, the city health department said. Residents older than 60 and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of developing more serious illness.