The number of animals that have contracted the West Nile virus has gone up this year, which experts say are a bellwether for human cases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their data Thursday showing that those animal-related cases in New York and New Jersey have increased (the CDC doesn’t specify how much of an increase occurred).
West Nile virus is most commonly transmitted through an infected mosquito’s bite and leads to West Nile fever. While most cases show no symptoms, some common symptoms include fever, body aches, and headaches. Though, in some rarer cases, people can develop encephalitis or meningitis, conditions that can lead to brain damage and prove fatal. Those who are most at risk for developing severe symptoms are people above the age of 60, and those with conditions like diabetes. There’s currently no vaccine to protect oneself.
Dr. Denis Nash, professor of epidemiology at CUNY’s School of Public Health, said that the recent weather conditions may increase human cases of West Nile.
“The rain and the heat that we’ve had over the last few weeks are setting up some pretty ideal conditions for the proliferation of the adult mosquito populations,” Nash said. “There’s some activity in animals now, so the precaution is to avoid mosquito bites.”
West Nile cases are most likely to occur during the summer and early fall, and the increase in mosquitos from this year’s rainfall is most likely to exacerbate the amount of human transmissions.
Nash recommends wearing mosquito repellant both inside and outside, as all types of mosquitos can be infected with the virus.
He also advises New Yorkers pay attention to the city’s Department of Health when they alert that cases have been detected and where they’re detected. DOH has a website noting where West Nile has been found in mosquitos; since mid-June, those mosquitos have been found in the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island.
According to the CDC, New York state recorded eight West Nile cases, including one death, in 2020, while New Jersey had three in 2020. The CDC only counts cases where people were hospitalized or detected through blood tests including at blood donation centers.
While the first cases of West Nile in the United States back in 1999 was in New York City, the most affected regions now are in the south and the midwest sections of the U.S.