New York Times Examines Factors Contributing To Presence of ‘Exotic’ Infectious Diseases In New York City

“When New York City’s health department revealed last weekend that three people had contracted cholera [after traveling to the Dominican Republic], it was a reminder that the city is not just a world capital of arts, business and the like – but also of exotic diseases,” the New York Times writes in an article that explores how diseases from around the world often make their way to the city through its diverse population of travelers.

For instance, “several people every year are found to have a Biblical disease, leprosy … In 2002, bubonic plague, more commonly associated with the 14th century, found its way to New York City through two travelers who came from a ranch in New Mexico, where the disease is endemic in flea-bitten wild animals like prairie dogs,” the newspaper writes.

“Malaria is a steady presence in New York City, with about 200 cases a year – a far greater incidence than that of another mosquito-borne disease, West Nile, which infected 42 New Yorkers last year. … As for cholera, New York City receives reports of about one case a year, almost always found in someone who has traveled abroad, so the three cases of last weekend represent a bit of an increase.”

The article notes how increased surveillance following the “terrorist attacks of 2001” enabled public health officials to better monitor patterns of disease emergence in the city, and factors that contribute to fluctuations in disease outbreaks. The article also features quotes by Don Weiss, the director of surveillance for New York City’s Bureau of Communicable Diseases. Of the malaria cases, Weiss said, “The mosquito that transmitted it doesn’t live in this part of the world. … People going home to Africa pick it up and bring it here” (Hartocollis, 2/10).