Mosquito-Borne Illnesses a Concern in NJ

By Brenda Flanagan

Summertime and the mosquitoes are bugging people cross New Jersey.

“As you can see, I got bitten out here yesterday when I was walking,” said Paramus resident Cheryl Plummer.

“I hate mosquitoe bites,” said Palisades Park resident Grace Han.

And mosquito bites can inflict worse than the usual itchy bump. Exotic, mosquito-borne fevers invade New Jersey via jetliners.

Viruses like Chikungunya incubate in the bloodstream of unsuspecting travelers who visit viral hot spots in the tropics and get nailed by infected mosquitoes there, according to New Jersey’s Department of Health. It’s logged 25 cases of Chikungunya in Jersey so far this year.

“These are travel-related cases, individuals that went to the Caribbean: 75 percent of our cases had traveled to the Dominican Republic, 25 percent had traveled to Haiti,” NJ Department of Health Epidemiologist Shereen Semple said.

Chikungunya symptoms include fever, a rash and joint pain, especially in the hands and feet, plus headache and nausea. Patients generally recover in a week or so, but they can still carry the virus. This year the CDC’s identified Chikungunya cases in 39 states — including Florida — where local mosquitoes bit carriers and then infected new victims. Could that happen in New Jersey?

“It is potentially possible that a mosquito could bite an infected person and pick up the disease from them and pass that along, but that has not happened yet,” said NJ Department of Mosquito Control Eric Willeges.

Department of Health workers collecting mosquito samples across New Jersey have identified the more familiar West Nile virus in 11 New Jersey counties — Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Passaic and Union counties — but no case of West Nile disease in humans has been confirmed yet this year. Counties have already started spraying, but the Department of Health urges residents to defend themselves.

“We do recommend following simple measures to prevent getting mosquito bites, that would include wearing things like wearing insect replant especially one containing deet. Wearing long sleeves or long pants when outdoors and removing any standing water from your yard,” said Semple.

The peak season for West Nile starts Aug. 1 and runs through October. Mild West Nile symptoms include flu-like illness with fever, headache, body aches and nausea.

“Mosquito control across the state works to reduce mosquito populations and protect the public,” Willeges said.

Meanwhile, a third mosquito-borne illness has also invaded New Jersey this year — 13 cases of Dengue fever. Dengue’s common in Puerto Rico and many other tourist spots across the globe and it’s potentially fatal. New Jersey’s Department of Health says it plans to start collecting mosquitoes and testing them for Dengue and Chikungunya. It urges travelers to take preventive mosquito measures.