County Executive Steve Bellone and Commissioner of Health Services Dr. James Tomarken announced today the activation of the Public Health Information Line: 631-787-2200. The Information Line is being employed to enhance continuing efforts to detect and prevent the spread of communicable illnesses in Suffolk County. The line is now available from Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
“Suffolk County’s public health surveillance program is among the most robust in the country,” said Executive Bellone. “Now, as residents head outdoors in the warmer weather, we are ramping up efforts to monitor communicable diseases and keep residents informed about what they can do to protect themselves and their families.”
“Our mission is to protect and improve the health of the public,” said Dr. Tomarken. “We do this in a variety of ways, including monitoring the health of the community, detecting and investigating health problems and hazards, educating the public, developing plans and enforcing laws. Our Public Health Information Line is one tool we use to accomplish our goals.”
The New York Sanitary Code designates over 70 communicable diseases as reportable. The illnesses of high concern at this time are Zika virus, West Nile virus and rabies virus. Residents who think they may have been exposed to these viruses or have questions or concerns about these illnesses are encouraged to call the Suffolk County Public Health Information Line at 631-787-2200.
Zika virus, newly emerging as a worldwide threat to public health, is spread primarily by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito, through sexual transmission or transfusion. Although Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are not present in New York State, a related species named Aedes albopictus is active in the downstate region, and may be able to effectively transmit the virus. Research is ongoing. Zika virus may cause mild or no symptoms in many, however, Zika virus infection has the potential to cause severe birth defects. Women who are pregnant or of childbearing age and their male partners are urged to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.
- If you wish to keep informed about national and/or local developments regarding Zika virus, may visit the Suffolk County website at Zika Information.
- For medical questions related to Zika virus, contact your health care provider or call the Public Health Information Line.
Rabies virus is most often seen among wild animals such as raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes, but any mammal can be infected with rabies virus, which is invariably fatal. Pets and livestock can get rabies if they are not vaccinated to protect them against infection.
- Residents of all towns are asked to call the Information Line number to report raccoons that come into contact with humans or pets.
- With the report of a rabid raccoon in Nassau County last March, Suffolk County has increased surveillance of raccoons in the Towns of Huntington and Babylon. Residents of those towns are asked to report:
o raccoons that come into contact with humans or pets
o raccoons that are acting abnormally
o raccoons that are dead for reasons other than motor-vehicle crash
- If you have been exposed to a bat in your home or outdoors, call the Public Health Information Line. If a bat is in your house and you have any questions about whether the bat has been in contact with people or pets, call the Information Line before releasing it and follow CDC guidelines in capturing it, avoiding any contact with the bat. http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/bats/contact/home.html
- Residents with general questions about rabies may visit: http://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/rabies/fact_sheet.htm
West Nile virus, which has been present in Suffolk County since 1999, is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito that has acquired the virus from biting an infected bird. Although it is estimated that only 20 percent of those who become infected with West Nile virus will develop clinically noticeable symptoms, West Nile virus can be fatal. Individuals who are most at risk for severe infection include those over 50 years of age and those with chronic illness or compromised immune systems. These individuals are urged to take precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes during the season.
For questions about mosquito-borne illnesses, including West Nile virus, visit Preventing Mosquito Borne Illnesses
- Residents who have medical questions related to West Nile virus, may call the Public Health Information Line.
- Dead Birds: Residents are also encouraged to report sightings of dead birds, such as robins, crows, blue jays and hawks that may have been infected with the virus to the Public Health Information Line. Birds that meet the Department of Health Services’ criteria will be picked up between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Accepted bird specimens are tested for the presence of the virus in the bird population. If it is determined by health officials that a reported bird is not needed for testing or if a dead bird is discovered on a weekend, residents should take proper precautionary measures: put the dead bird into a doubled bag, using gloves and a shovel, and dispose of it in the trash. Note: Humans cannot catch West Nile virus directly from birds.
To report mosquito problems or stagnant pools of water, call the Department of Public Works’ Vector Control Division at 631-852-4270.