The relatively dry spring weather might be bad for the flowers, but it could help keep disease-carrying mosquitoes away, said at least one state health expert.
It's still too early to predict whether we'll have another bad season for the mosquito-borne West Nile Virus, said Dr. Theodore Andreadis, chief medical entomologist for the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, which traps and tests mosquitoes for disease. But, he said, insects that carry West Nile tend to thrive from a wet spring and a dry, hot summer.
"We've had a pretty dry spring so far, so that bodes well," Andreadis said. "But that can all change very quickly."
Last year was the deadliest West Nile season on record, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released last week. Nationwide, there were 5,674 human cases of West Nile, including 286 deaths. In Connecticut, there were no deaths, but there were 21 human cases -- the highest volume in the state since the illness was first found here in 1999. According to the state Department of Public Health, Stamford had the highest number of cases at five, followed by Greenwich, which had two cases. Bridgeport, Danbury, Milford, Trumbull, Norwalk and Ansonia were among those that had one case each.
The start of this year's season is at least a few weeks off, experts said. Andreadis said the state won't start placing mosquito traps until early June. Though the dry spring might be an omen of a less-active West Nile season, Andreadis said these things are nearly impossible to predict. "Every year is a little bit different," he said. "It's all going to depend on the weather."
Weather also affects the length of the West Nile season, said Dr. Randall Nelson, senior epidemiologist with the state DPH. He said, typically, the first virus-positive mosquitoes are found in July, and the number of human cases starts to rise in August. However, in an intense season like last season, the cycle can start a few weeks earlier. "The lesson is, we really don't know from season to season what we're going to see," Nelson said.
On the good news side, Andreadis said the dry spring has already had some impact on run-of-the-mill mosquitoes -- those that just spread annoyance and discomfort. Andreadis said due to the relative lack of rain, they'll be in short supply this spring.
West Nile Virus is spread by mosquitoes and can cause illness in people and animals. Culex pipiens is the species of mosquito most commonly associated with West Nile virus in Connecticut. Those who contract the illness often have no symptoms or mild symptoms. However, in certain groups, particularly those older than 50, the virus causes serious disease that affects the nervous system.
For instance, there was a case at Bridgeport Hospital seven or eight years ago where the virus attacked the patient's spinal cord, requiring serious rehabilitation, said Dr. Zane Saul, the hospital's chief of infectious diseases. But, he said, such cases are rare.
"The majority of people who get West Nile don't even know they had it," he said.
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