October 17, 2012

Cornell Professor Says West Nile Virus May Rise in New York

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Editor’s note appended

A Cornell professor who studies diseases carried by mosquitoes is warning that this year’s unusually warm summer may be causing an uptick in cases of West Nile Virus in New York State.The number of cases of West Nile — a disease which can cause high fever, coma and even death in humans — that have been reported to the state so far this year is unprecedented, according to Sharon Dittman, associate director of community relations at Gannett Health Services.“The number of cases reported so far in 2012 is the highest number of West Nile diseases reported to the Center for Disease Control through this point in the year since West Nile was first detected in the United States,” Dittman said.Warmer climates speed up the development of West Nile Virus in mosquitoes, which may explain the recent spike in cases of the disease in the U.S., said Prof. Laura Harrington, entomology.Harrington added that she believes the increase in cases will persist in the coming months.“We are likely only at the beginning of a significant upward trajectory in human cases [of West Nile virus],” Harrington said. Of the 2,636 cases of the disease reported 2012, 29 were from New York State, according to Harrington. Although the New York State Department of Health has reported several cases in Syracuse and other areas in Central New York, the disease has so far not reached the Ithaca area, Dittman said.“There have been no reports of people ill with West Nile Virus in Tompkins [County] or immediately surrounding counties,” she said.Dittman cautioned against panicking about the disease, saying that only a small percentage of mosquitoes that carry the virus are able to transmit the disease. Among those who get bit by an infected mosquito, only 20 percent develop serious symptoms, according to Dittman. Additionally, just one in 150 of infected people — most of them over the age of 50 — develop more serious cases of the disease, she said. “It’s important to keep West Nile virus in perspective,” Dittman added.Harrington expressed concerns about how effectively public health officials have been able to prevent the disease from spreading. She said that traps used by public health departments to capture possibly disease-infected mosquitoes usually only catch 10 to 15 of the 63 different species of mosquitoes found in New York.“Many of the species out there are not being monitored or collected,” she said.More than 40 species of mosquitoes and 120 species of birds nationwide can transmit West Nile virus, Harrington said. Because West Nile virus has no vaccine or known treatment, it is important that people in areas that are heavily populated by mosquitoes take precautions such as using insect repellent, she said.Dittman encouraged anyone who has questions or concerns about symptoms to talk to a health care provider, adding that Gannett urges members of the Cornell community to learn more how to prevent West Nile Virus.

Editor’s Note: According to Prof. Laura Harrington, entomology, the mosquito season officially ended with the first frost on October 7. This article should have been revised to reflect that there is no further threat from West Nile Virus in 2012. Harrington was quoted in the article as saying that the uptick in West Nile cases would persist in the coming months. However, this quote was given in late August, and its publication in mid-October is therefore misleading.

Original Author: Andrew Lee