By Paul DeBenedetto
Special to DNAinfo.com New York
MANHATTAN — When Pauline Galiana first toured the Upper West Side brownstone that would soon become her new home, she noticed a single mosquito flying around the house. Thinking nothing of it, she shooed the pest and went on with the tour.
Soon after moving in, her family began noticing bites all over their bodies. Thinking it was a case of bed bugs, they trashed their mattresses and treated their apartment.
Now Galiana, 50, wears insect repellent to bed. Her 14-year-old daughter's eczema problem is exacerbated by bites, and her eyes are red from lack of sleep.
"It's not just being sensitive," Galiana said, stopping to smack a mosquito. "They haven't stopped coming out for two years."
The mosquito plague has long been a problem for the area, according to reports in the West Side Rag.
Since as early as 2009, residents of West 84th Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive have been fighting off attacking mosquitoes, while the city has done little to help, neighbors claim.
Now they're taking steps to help change that.
Next week, Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal is holding a forum alongside the city's Departments of Environmental Protection, Transportation and Health and Mental Hygiene to address what she calls "the Upper West Side infestation."
“My office has received scores of complaints from residents who are suffering from the invasion of mosquitoes in my district and across the city," Rosenthal said in a statement. "As breeding season rapidly approaches, the problems will only get worse, particularly due to the dangers of being bitten by mosquitoes that carry the West Nile virus."
According to Rosenthal's office, the town hall meeting on May 17 is intended to inform locals as to what the city is doing to help, as well as answer any questions about bites or disease. But residents are hoping it will also spark additional action by the city.
Aaron Naveh, 66, has lived on West 84th Street for more than 30 years and says he didn't notice mosquitoes in the neighborhood until a few years ago. Now he can't ignore them: He and his family keep all of the windows closed and they can no longer use their own backyard.
"We sleep under mosquito nets," Naveh said. "Either that or you keep the windows closed all summer."
A spokesman for the Departments of Transportation and the Health Department said they would have representatives at the meeting.
The Department of Environmental Protection said that "it will offer its expertise" at the meeting.
This isn't the first time neighbors have called in outside help. In 2010, Dr. Dina Fonseca, of the Center for Vector Biology at Rutgers University, was asked by one West 84th Street resident to study the mosquitoes.
She was surprised by what she found.
"I went into his basement and there were mosquitoes flying all over the place," Fonseca said. "And this was in December."
The mosquitoes were a variation of the species culex pippins, the common house mosquito, Fonseca explained. Although there isn't an immediate health threat, she noted, they are capable of carrying the West Nile virus.
Fonseca said the pests' normal environment is underground, and that they may have gotten into the air through cracks in the block's old brownstone basements.
"They need to figure out how to close up the connection," Fonseca said. "These mosquitoes are laying eggs in the sewers. It's very difficult to control the mosquito population in the sewers."
Stephanie Guilpin, 45, hopes the town hall meeting will help address the problem. Her daughter has also experienced health issues due to the mosquitoes. After a bite on the eyelid, she had to be taken to an opthamologist. And 18 months ago, she was rushed to NYU Hospital's dermatology department to treat a systemic reaction to the bites, her mother said.
"I lived in New Delhi for close to a year," Guilpin said. "It wasn't as bad as this."