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Health

Memorial Day marks start of mosquito season in central New York

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Central New York Health officials say its that time of year to start thinking about preventing mosquito bites. Memorial Day signals the start of warm weather that means prime breeding conditions for mosquitoes and every year, it means health officials throughout the region go on the offensive as the West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis can begin percolating among the insects that live here.

Onondaga County Health Commissioner Indu Gupta says prevention is the only way to deal with these diseases. 

"If you can prevent mosquito bites, this will eliminate getting any of these rare but serious diseases, especially when you are talking about West Nile and EEE which is native to our community," Gupta said. "Zika virus is not native to our community and does not pose a risk at this point, but we must be vigilant.”

Gupta wants central New Yorkers to take steps to avoid mosquito bites, including eliminating standing water on property, fixing broken screens and using insect repellant when mosquitoes are most active during dawn and dusk.

The mosquito that transmits Zika viruses or dengue is not native to central New York, but some experts believe they could make their way upstate eventually. Mark Polhemus, the director of the Center for Global Health at SUNY Upstate, said the medical community has to figure out how to fund research for pathogens like Zika that seem to be popping up every couple of years. He said while there is an initial flurry of interest, it often isn’t sustained.

"It’s not like there’s gazillions of dollars in somebody’s pocket out there just waiting for a new emerging pathogen to come on to the scene," Polhemus said. "What ends up happening is something comes on to the scene and we take money that was Ebola money and move it over here, and we take money that was HIV money and move it over here. So, we have to figure out what we are going to do initially and then we have to sustain research.”

Polhemus notes that drugs and vaccines take 30 years and billions of dollars to develop. The Zika virus came to the forefront of public health concerns in the last year in South and Central America after scientists learned of a connection between infection and birth defects.