New Haven and state officials are on high alert this year in light of several recent confirmed human cases of the West Nile Virus in a region densely populated with carrier mosquitoes.
Mosquito season, which typically runs from late summer through early fall, has already brought six confirmed human cases of the West Nile virus to Connecticut, including two cases in New Haven, one of which was a fatality. An additional case in West Haven was announced Thursday, said James Hadler, the state’s director of infectious diseases and chief epidemiologist. This season has presented an unusually high concentration of cases on the New Haven-West Haven border he said.
“Three people have gotten severe enough to be diagnosed, and that’s the first time that’s happened in Connecticut,” Hadler said. “The findings throughout the rest of the state also indicate a fairly severe season.”
Although one in 150 people who are infected with the West Nile Virus develop a severe illness of the nervous system, 80 percent will have no visible symptoms and up to 20 percent will experience flu-like symptoms, according to statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control.
In an attempt to combat the spread of the virus, the New Haven Department of Health and the Livable City Initiative have collaborated to distribute bilingual flyers throughout the West River Neighborhood, informing residents about methods to reduce their risk of contracting the virus. Each house received a flyer in an attempt to spread information more efficiently than through a community meeting, LCI Neighborhood Specialist Linda Davis said.
“We’re just trying to get the word out and hope they respond,” she said.
The early incidents of human cases in the New Haven area have captured the attention of local and state officials. Because the coming months are thought to be the high-risk season for the virus, the state and the city are currently discussing whether the West River area of New Haven should be sprayed with insecticide, city spokeswoman Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo said.
“The sense is that the state is more alarmed,” Sullivan-DeCarlo said.
Yale Health Plan Medical Director Michael Rigsby said an increase in the number of cases of West Nile usually occurs during this time of year because this is mosquito-breeding season. He said there is no reason to be overly concerned. Students have little to worry about, he said, since the population most affected by this virus is the elderly.
“It’s important for people to know that this is a very rare disease,” Rigsby said. ?For most people it’s not a tremendous health risk.”
Hadler also said students are at a fairly low risk because the Yale campus is not situated near any mosquito breeding grounds. Still, he said, their risk will increase if they do not take the necessary precautions to avoid bites.
“If you’re just walking to the library, walking between classes the risk is minimal,” he said. “But if you’re going to be spending a lot of time outside just hanging out and not moving much then you definitely want to wearing long sleeves and covering exposed skin with repellent.”
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said in a press release that the elderly should take special care to avoid exposure to mosquitoes, although all residents should take precautions such as removing stagnant water from nearby their homes and using insect repellent.
Hadler said the long-term effects of being infected can be unpleasant.
“Most people recover,” he said. “But there is this polio-like effect that comes with the virus if you’ve gotten really weak as a result of it, [and] those effects can linger, leading to an inability to concentrate and memory problems. It?s not an infection that you want to get.”