The family of a 71-year-old College Point woman who allegedly died of West Nile virus said they sway between incredible sadness and extreme anger at the city.
“This could have been prevented. They should have sprayed. They shouldn’t wait for a fatality to happen,” said Francis Coppola, 50.
He said his mother, Maria Coppola, was bitten by mosquitoes three times — on the eye, ear and arm — last year on August 10, while sitting outside on her porch. While he said the family was unsure where exactly she contracted the virus, he said she did not travel and was bedridden even before she was allegedly diagnosed with the disease soon after in September. She died on March 31 of this year.
Family members pointed to nearby areas of stagnant water as close as 200 yards away — and flu-like symptoms Maria suffered, indicative of the virus — as obvious signs of West Nile, but the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said they are looking into the death before deeming Coppola another West Nile victim.
“The Health Department is investigating a report that a Queens woman died from complications of West Nile virus,” the agency said in a statement.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the United States saw 44 total cases of West Nile virus — which resulted in two deaths — last year. Statistics on the health department’s website show 181 mosquito pools were found in New York City in 2011, including 89 in Queens, and of the nine severe cases of West Nile reported then, four were from Queens.
The disease first emerged in the country in 1999, and nearly all cases were detected within a 75-mile radius of New York City, the CDC said. Since then, the agency said more than 30,000 people have been affected and more than 1,200 have died.
City health officials said the department sprayed the College Point area three times last year. They also said all catch basins in the neighborhood were treated three times as well.
Still, the family said there were actually no sprays conducted, and efforts were not enough to deter mosquitoes from breeding near three stagnant water sources nearby. Francis said the family’s home is located near two sewer pools, high rising weeds on the nearby waterfront and a broken pothole that fills with rain water on 23rd Avenue and 119th Street.
Their complaints have fallen on deaf ears, he said.
“It’s clearly known that this area is ground zero,” Francis said. “The mayor knows we have this going on here. Do something about it. I don’t want to start pandemonium, but apparently we have already.”
Maria helped operate a family-run pizzeria in College Point with her husband of 55 years, Frank, the family said. Francis said his mother came to America with only $2 in her pocket and died a successful woman with five children.
“It’s very tough,” husband Frank, 79, said through tears. “She was my right arm. She was everything to me. She was cut short of her life.”