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A College Point family lost their mother to complications stemming from West Nile virus, and they point to standing pools of water and unkempt foliage across the street as the culprit.
Francis Coppola said his mother Maria died March 31 after suffering from an illness related to the West Nile virus for nearly seven months.
“We had such high hopes she was recovering,” Coppola said of his mother, who was 70 years old. “She was like the backbone of our family.”
His mother contracted the virus in September, according to Coppola, and was shuffled around to four different hospitals in the area before she died at New York Hospital Queens.
His mother grew up in Naples, Italy, and came to America after she married Coppola’s father, also named Francis. She came to New York and settled in College Point, working at a clothing factory in Manhattan before running the family restaurant, Coppola’s Pizza, near the corner of 14th Avenue and 132nd Street in College Point.
The city Department of Health confirmed her death and said it is looking into the causes.
“The Health Department is investigating reports of a Queens woman who died from complications of West Nile Virus,” a spokeswoman said. “The department treated all catch basins in College Point three times last year. Aerial larviciding was also conducted three times last season.”
West Nile can take two forms, the first being a typically nonfatal fever, but the virus can also cause fatal complications, including encephalitis and meningitis, which are referred to as neuro-invasive forms of the virus.
The Coppolas said they have complained about standing pools of water across from their mother’s home and unkempt weeds on the property of nearby businesses. They are planning legal action against the businesses there and the city for not responding to their complaints.
College Point is a known haven for mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus, which is disproportionately fatal to the young and old. In 1999, it was the site of the first known case of the disease in the United States.
Last year, the department reported College Point as just one of two areas where the virus was detected in its last survey covering Aug. 28 to Sept. 16, according to department statistics.
In Queens last year, there were five confirmed cases of West Nile Virus, although a report issued by the Health Department said legions of cases go unreported.
In November, another Queens resident in Whitestone died from complications related to West Nile Virus, according to Coppola, who is organizing a group to bring awareness to the disease and is planning to speak at an upcoming Community Board 7 meeting.
The department outlined a plan to monitor and control the promulgation of mosquitoes infected with West Nile, emphasizing the importance of prevention by eliminating standing water and killing unhatched larvae with pesticide sprays.
But according to a lawmaker who toured the site across from Maria Coppola’s home and another down the street, the city is not taking standing water complaints seriously enough.
“The city has to take a more aggressive approach to West Nile,” said state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who said complaints by neighbors often never get past the initial stage of issuing a warning letter to the offending property owner.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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