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.