QUEENS, N.Y. (PIX11)—Giuseppe Totino, 86, who is slowly recovering from the potentially deadly West Nile virus, blames his sickness on the abandoned property next to his home in Whitestone. His flu-like symptoms in August were enough for his daughter to bring him to St. Francis Hospital, where he wound up battling the virus for two weeks.
"I told the nurse, 'I've been living next to a jungle for the past five years. I want my father tested for West Nile virus.' A few days later the test came back positive for West Nile, " said Diana Totino.
The "jungle" she's referring to is the backyard of the long vacant house next door on 18th Avenue which is covered with towering weeds. Diana and Dominick Totino suspect a mosquito carrying the virus came from the abandoned property and bit their father.
"You look at the site, and it's kind of hard to dispute the evidence," said Dominick Totino. Queens Councilman Dan Halloran dropped by the family's home in response to their complaints about the overgrowth.
"We've already noticed there are raccoons, opossums, and lots of insects buzzing around. Clearly there's a problem and this overgrowth is a threat to the community around it -- whether or not this mosquito in particular came from this particular property, " said Councilman Halloran.
PIX 11 News confronted the property's owner Pedro Somoza when he arrived Saturday morning with workers to begin cutting down the weeds. Somoza conceded he should have had this taken care of a long time ago. "I say sorry one more time," he said.
The Health Department inspected the property on Friday and found no evidence of standing water, according to spokeswoman Susan Craig.
"I don't know if they looked under this canopy to see what's going on underneath, and they never went inside the house to see if there's standing water in the house, the basement," Dominick Totino said. "So that kind of report to me is useless."
The property was referred to the Health Department's Pest Control Services for further action.