RARE BREED OF NASTY MOSQUITOES ATTACKS THE UPPER WEST SIDE: WELTS, BANDAGES, AND HOSPITALIZATIONS

By Leonora Desar

A species of mosquitoes known for menacing Londoners in the Underground during the World War II Blitz have made their way to the Upper West Side, and the results have been very ugly. The infestation has resulted in itchy, sleepless nights for many residents and doctors visits and hospitalizations for a few others.

The problem has primarily affected West 84th street residents between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive, although there have been some reports from West 85th and West 83rd streets as well, and as far East as 84th between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West.

The culprits – a rare breed of mosquito known as Culex pipiens molestus (molest us indeed!) – have a more active life span than other mosquitoes. They have continued to plague residents even as the weather has cooled.  They are known for their voracious biting and leave welt-sized bite marks on their unlucky victims.

According to West 84th street resident Bernard Lagan, the infestation began towards the end of summer, 2010.  That fall, specialists from Rutgers University came and installed mosquito traps in some of the buildings, trapping roughly 500 mosquitoes in a 24 hour period.  Much to their surprise they identified them as being the Culex pipiens molestus, which are practically unheard of in Manhattan.

The city Health Department was made aware of the problem in November, 2010.  When asked to comment, the department responded that they are trying to help with their limited resources but do not deal with “nuisance” mosquitoes if they aren’t spreading more serious diseases. “This mosquito species is a nuisance pest but fortunately it is not responsible for the transmission of West Nile virus in the City,” the department said.

Residents on West 84th street would argue that the pests are more than just a nuisance.

Almost 50 residents wrote about being attacked by the mosquitoes to an email address set up by Upper West Sider Pauline Galiana.  One resident wrote that her daughter had so many mosquito bites that she developed a whole body allergic reaction and had to wear bandages for several months to cover the large welts.   Another wrote that her son is so highly allergic to the mosquito bites that he was hospitalized twice and had to be put on steroids.

Adult residents report they can’t perform their jobs well because they are so exhausted.  And when they finally do manage to get some sleep they never know how they might look when they wake up in the morning.

“The other day my wife woke up looking like a character out of Avatar when one bit her on the eyelid,” said a resident on West End Avenue.

Lagan reports that only one Health Department worker has really been responsive to the problem. “He’s had a hard time convincing his superiors,” Lagan said.  “These mosquitoes are so unusual that the city doesn’t know what they’re dealing with.”

Photo by Leonora Desar.

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    1. Tony Adams says:

      I am terrifically relieved to read this. On several nights in recent weeks I woke up in the middle of the night having been bitten on an exposed hand/fingers. The itching was extremely bad to the point where I could not get back to sleep for an hour or two. By morning all that remained were small red bumps to prove the experience to my husband who has always been ignored by mosquitoes.
      I am on 68th between Columbus and the Park. How do I get rid of these things? Where do they nest?

      • Howard Freeman says:

        Tony:

        Send a note to mosquito.w84@gmail.com. One of my neighbors is in touch with the Health Department.

        Last year, another neighbor actually had a group come from Rutgers to study this strain of bug. They are really nasty creatures (the bugs, not the folks from Rutgers) and will take concerted effort to eradicate.

      • Aaron Naveh says:

        Join our group by emailing us at mosquito.w84@gmail.com. You’ll get info about mosquito proofing your apt. and other news. Also, very important, call 311 and complain, get a case number and email it to the above address. Also make other neighbors aware of this problem and encourage them to call 311. The more complaints, the better our chances that someone in the City will finally pay attention.

    2. Howard Freeman says:

      I think the culprit is underground water–either a reservoir or river: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/21/nyregion/map-of-how-manhattan-grid-grew.html

      Scroll over the UWS and use the left-hand bar to reveal older and newer maps. I remember when this was published noticing that there was water running underneath our neighborhood–and specifically under W 84th Street–in the older maps. Granted, it might be dry nowadays. Yet, a neighbor has noticed a hole in the sidewalk where mosquitoes emerge like aircraft from a hangar. Underground water might be the culprit.

      • Aaron Naveh says:

        You are absolutely right that the problem is under the street but its the river. There is a sewer leak under the street that erodes the street below. there is a hole in the street that measures 18 ft in depth. The problem is how to convince The City to dig the street up and repair it. They would rather wait for the street to collapse and then they’ll pay attention. This is a campaign that is two years old!

    3. Jay says:

      Thank goodness I have checked and rechecked for bedbugs to no avail but still had large welts this must be it and they are in NJ also I have not been bitten when using a fan.

    4. Nora Braverman says:

      I am grateful to see that this problem is getting some overage in the news. I am on West 83rd Street and have had this problem since 2010. While I am happy to know that these mosquitoes do not carry West Nile, they are a tremendous nuisance and are even terrorizing my cat!

    5. Joe Ditrinco says:

      It’s not just W 83rd St. Same’s happening where I am, West End and 98th. Thanks for reporting this.

    6. Chaim Amalek says:

      Are these mosquitoes resistant to DDT? Perhaps applying small amounts of DDT to the interior walls of these apartments would keep them away. Or the city could use the techniques of endoscopy to access sub-street level voids to pump in DDT without having to rip up the street.

    7. Erin Stanton says:

      So glad this is finally getting coverage. I am COVERED in bites! Emailed the group and just called 311.

      • Robin says:

        Watch for any signs/symptoms of various illnesses like chronic fatigue or other autoimmune issues. I research lyme issues and am doing a series on a radio show on Wednesdays and I believe moquitoes could be involved. There has been releases of mosquitoes in florida and canada in the past and then it was watched for what symptoms showed up.

    8. Jerry Goldblat says:

      This is Bush’s fault !!

    9. Aaron Naveh says:

      To all:

      Please email your story to us @ the above address. Our strength derives from the number of followers, and “horror stories”. The story was also featured on Chanel 2 last eve at 11.

    10. Gint says:

      The mosquitos sent my girlfriend to the doctor, and I’ve had many sleepless nights. I am happy this is getting coverage finally. I thought I was going crazy!

    11. collette marie says:

      We, too, are being driven crazy by these extremely tenacious, blood-thirsty mosquitoes…it doesn’t help that they are nearly invisible. We live in Greenwich Village, so these mosquitoes are no longer just on the Upper West Side. While this problem isn’t on par with, say, the famine in Somalia, it is a problem. Nothing we have done has helped.

      • Meg L says:

        Mosquitos are a chronic problem in our building on 82nd St. b/w CPW and Columbus. Contrary to one commenter’s claim that they are nearly invisible, ours are definitely not. They measure up to 1/2 inch body, with visible black and white stripes. They are large enough to clearly see legs, sucker needle, and body. They are enormous, and the blood splatter stains are all over my walls to prove it. If your mosquitos are nearly invisible, it is probably an unrelated infestation.

    12. Shawna says:

      This is such a relief… I have been waking up for the past month with huge welts.. I thought it was bedbugs and had the inspector come.. Just Mosquitos! It’s terrible… Im on 55th and 7th ave..

    13. antonio pinto says:

      Geez. I had this problem last year and its come back again this year… im on 94th st though. Mosquitos come in and bite in the middle of the night. We have a hard time sleeping bc of the itch.

      • George says:

        Can’t they fumigate the mosquitos as they do in other parts of the country (ei: Long Island, Fire Island).. at least kill what you can to keep the problem under control

        • Alright, I’m reading reports these past few days that it’s getting worst but it’s finally getting newsworthy to the local news stations. Let’s hope they do something about it before summer really hits. Also, the rain we’re getting this week isn’t helping the cause either!

    14. Anna McQueen says:

      I live 4 blocks from the Marine Park(BK) inlet. In the beginning of summer 2011 I began getting bitten by something. I knew they weren’t bedbugs or mite as they flew in a swarm. I had to keep going to the ER with severe allergic reactions, and I was put on steroids, they never went away in the winter until the heat was shut off & now they’re back.

    15. Anna McQueen says:

      My family & friends thought I was crazy. They are so small & fast. I really thought they would die in the winter but it just got worse. When the heat was shut off in May finally I thought I was rid of them. Now it is late July and we’re having too much rain for this time of year again. Con Ed was out 3 weeks ago & open the street at least 4 times and between that & the rain they are back hot & heavy. The city has no intentions on spraying this area I keep checking. I don’t think I can keep getting the severe allergic reactions that I do from these things. I been on steroids non stop since last August. I lived here my whole life (I’m in my 50′s); where did these things come from all of a sudden? We never had mosquitoes like this before. Repellents and sprays don’t seem to help. They just get more aggressive.

    16. Anna McQueen says:

      To the person on W82nd bet Columbus & CPW those that you describe are tiger mosquitoes and that is an aggressive species of Asian origin that some how ended up in NYC. For all of us with the nearly invisible ones that bite all night and leave the welts and allergic reaction; those are the subway mosquitoes culex pipiens molestus and they too are an introduced species from somewhere else. In the last year because of these pests I have learned more about biting parasites then someone that is not an entomologist should ever have to know only so I could seek the proper medical attention.