I want to take you back to the year 2000. I am almost sure that it was 2000. I spent a lot of that year on a lot of drugs. Either way, what was important about that year was that it marked the emergence of the West Nile virus in the American media. Not the emergence of the West Nile virus in nature. This is an important distinction, because the virus’s emergence in the media is all that really counts.
Anyway, I remember reading some article in Rolling Stone (I think? No amount of searching could turn this article up) that speculated about a future where there was a major West Nile outbreak and whole cities were quarantined as local populaces were ravaged by the virus. It sounded so insidious! First, people would have minor symptoms like mild headaches, but EVENTUALLY their brains would swell and they’d die horrible, protracted deaths as the mosquitoes would continue to suck their diseased blood and then buzz off on their deadly ways.
I remember reading this, flipping over in my bed, knocking over an ashtray, feeling completely hopeless and sensing the beginnings of a headache.
WE WERE ALL DOOMED.
Well, that was a long time ago. And while the West Nile virus has certainly maintained its presence in our fair metropolis and elsewhere around the country, I personally haven’t given it a second thought. I have other things to worry about. Like wondering where I can get one of these to keep as a pet. Adorable!
So. Why write this now? Why worry now after having lived with West Nile for a dozen years?
Because the Brooklyn Daily Eagle is reporting that “potentially deadly West Nile virus has been detected in mosquitoes in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Dyker Heights, Greenwood Heights, Starrett City and Windsor Terrace, according to the New York City Department of Health.”
And even though this has been true every single year since the virus was first discovered in America, it is particularly troublesome this year because there are more mosquitoes due to this hot, wet summer we’ve been having. Although no one in Brooklyn has come down with a severe case of West Nile this year, there has been one instance of a severe case in Staten Island.
No one has reported this, but I’m sensing that it is only a matter of time before we will have to cut off Staten Island from the rest of the world.
Personally, I don’t want it to come to that.
But, safety first, you know?
The Eagle keeps things in perspective by reminding us that, “most people — about 80 percent — infected with West Nile suffer no long-term effects. Others may experience mild symptoms, such as fever, headache, body aches or swollen glands. People with severe cases, however, may experience a sudden onset of headache, high fever, neck stiffness, convulsions, inflammation of the brain or death.”
I’d be more comfortable with those odds if I wasn’t such a total mosquito magnet. Really. They always swarm me. I’ve heard that mosquitoes are attracted to people with high quantities of lactic acid, which is something that increases after you exercise, which is interesting because I never exercise. This whole issue is shrouded in mystery, really.
Anyway. The city’s Department of Health reminds us to practice common sense by using insect repellents with DEET or oil of lemon eucalyptus, or other things and to wear preventative clothing and to get rid of standing water near your house.
By all means, do all of these things. And avoid Staten Island, even more than usual.
It’s just not safe.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen