Two Suffolk County residents have been diagnosed with West Nile virus, local officials said Monday, the first human cases reported this year.
One person lives in Southampton and is recovering at home after falling ill in July and being admitted to hospital, according to the Suffolk County Health Department. The other, who lives in the town of Huntington, fell ill in mid-August and was hospitalized on the mend. Officials said both people were over 50 years old.
Suffolk health officials also announced that they had found mosquitoes that tested positive for the Jamestown Canyon virus, a rare disease with symptoms similar to West Nile disease. No human cases have been reported in the area.
West Nile virus is the most common mosquito-borne disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms can range from fever, headache, and body aches to more serious conditions including encephalitis, or encephalitis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it has received 237 reports of human West Nile virus cases in the United States so far this year. Between 1999, when the virus was first identified in the country, and 2022, more than 56,000 human cases and 2,773 deaths have been reported. This includes nine deaths in Suffolk County.
The Nassau County Health Department has not reported any human cases of West Nile virus to date. The number of deaths from West Nile virus in Nassau County between 1999 and 2022 was not immediately available. A county spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Human cases of Jamestown Canyon virus are much rarer — only five cases were reported in the United States for 2023, including one in New York state — but the symptoms are similar to those of West Nile virus.
“Symptoms of West Nile virus may look like other health conditions or problems, which is why we advise symptomatic residents to see a healthcare provider,” Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott said in a statement. A lab test is needed to confirm the diagnosis.
While most infected people do not show symptoms, those with a mild illness can experience fatigue and weakness for months. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the virus can be fatal for people who develop more severe diseases affecting the central nervous system.
“It’s one thing to get bitten by a mosquito and another to get West Nile virus,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. Because the symptoms can be similar to other diseases or summer viruses such as enteroviruses. “A lot of times people don’t know they have it… Everyone needs to be aware because we want to make sure we’re doing the right assessment and the right treatment.”
She said it is especially important to diagnose the elderly and people with other health conditions because they are most at risk.
Infectious disease experts said the best way to avoid West Nile virus is to avoid mosquito bites by wearing insect repellent and protective clothing as well as eliminating standing water where mosquitoes breed.