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German Epidemiologist: Israeli Mosquito Brought West Nile Virus to New York

So sorry about that

Liel Leibovitz
November 15, 2017

As scientists from all over the world convene in Bonn this week for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, attendants will hear presentations on everything from global warming to carbon credits. They will also talk about the ways in which mosquitos spread disease, and how recent years have brought about major epidemics spread by the winged pests surreptitiously traveling from one country to another.

Like that one Israeli mosquito that, experts now say, may be responsible for bringing West Nile fever to New York. The culprit, said professor Jurgen May of the Bernahrd Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, probably hopped a flight from Tel Aviv to the Big Apple sometime in 1999.

“One can say with a fair degree of certainty that the virus arrived with an infected mosquito aboard a plane from Tel Aviv,” May said, adding that scientists have reached this conclusion by analyzing the virus and discovering strong relations to a virus discovered a year earlier in a goose living on an Israeli farm.

“There was a mild winter,” May explained. “That enabled the infectious mosquitos to survive until the spring. There was a warm and dry early summer, which was good for the mosquitos. They stung migratory birds, which then carried the virus further afield. The late summer was wet and lots of new breeding grounds emerged.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 44,000 cases of the virus have been reported in the 18 years since. That, May added, happened in part because local American mosquitos helped spread the virus rapidly.

“These were mosquitos that sting both humans and birds. And that enabled the virus to spread very far in a short timeframe.”

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.