Summer in New York means the return of patio brunch season, rooftop pools and all your favorite outdoor activities. Warm weather makes the city a groovy place, but it also ushers the return of the city's peskiest inhabitants: mosquitos.
The flying insects bring much more than the itchies and scratchies—they also come with a whole host of nasty diseases and serious health risks for New Yorkers. On Monday, the city's Department of Health & Mental Hygiene announced that mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus were detected in Staten Island. It's the first time this year that the department found the disease in the city and serves as a reminder of how menacing the little bugs can be.
Last year, 19 cases of West Nile were reported across New York State, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just one of those cases resulted in a death, and six led to "neuroinvasive diseases," which cause symptoms ranging from headaches and fevers to vomiting and skin rashes. In total, the CDC reported 2,038 cases of West Nile across the country in 2016.
Carrying West Nile isn't the only way that mosquitoes threaten the health of New Yorkers. The outbreak of mosquito-borne Zika virus brought a new run of risks for New Yorkers last year, and officials have warned that the disease will continue to be an issue in the city, state and country this summer. Nearly all of the cases of Zika in the United States thus far have been been contracted overseas, but the CDC has issued warnings that the virus could begin to be transmitted domestically. As of June 9, the Health Department reported 82 cases of Zika in New York City in 2017. (There were a total of 993 reported cases across the city in 2016.)
Zika disproportionately affects women and poses serious risks for pregnant women and newborn babies. Nearly 80 percent of the reported cases in the city from 2016 were found in women, and 406 pregnant women had evidence of a Zika infection. This led to 32 New York newborns affected by the virus during pregnancy.
Since West Nile's first nationwide outbreak in 1999, local officials have gone to great lengths to curb mosquito populations across the city. The Health Department regularly surveys mosquitoes through a network of 120 traps across all five boroughs and applies larvicide to areas with standing water across town to kill the tiny terrors before they grow into flying agents of sickness. Later this month, the department will begin dumping the bug-killing chemicals by way of helicopter in regions in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.
Both the Health Department and the CDC urge residents to take measures to reduce their exposure to mosquitoes as the weather warms up. The suggestions include applying insect repellent, ensuring that homes have functioning window screens and checking that roof gutters aren't clogged and are draining properly.
Mosquitoes have been plaguing the human race for thousands of years. Even though we're in an age where we can order sushi from a phone, we're still subject to the pains caused by the terrible little bugs. The risk of contracting West Nile or Zika in New York is very, very low, but it might be a good idea to pack some bug spray before you take a sunset stroll through the park this summer.