West Nile season returns

LEWISTOWN – Recent rains and rising temperatures create the perfect conditions for mosquito breeding. The state departments of Environmental Protection, Health and Agriculture remind area residents to take precautions against mosquitoes and the West Nile virus.

According to the Center for Disease Control, 11 states have reported West Nile virus infections in people, birds or mosquitoes as of June 11. A total of four cases of West Nile virus in people, including one death, have been reported to the CDC.

The DEP has also been conducting mosquito surveillance since early May, finding two mosquito samples and one avian specimen positive for the virus in Pennsylvania, said Acting DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo. Based on data from last year, West Nile is expected to be a great concern this year as well, he said.

“Last year proved to be a record season for West Nile virus in Pennsylvania,” Abruzzo said. “More than 3,400 mosquito samples tested positive for the virus, the most our department has ever identified.”

The West Nile virus was detected in 52 counties last year, including Mifflin and Juniata, beginning with the first positive mosquito test on May 3, the earliest incidence on record, Abruzzo said. There were 60 total human cases of West Nile in 2012, including four fatalities, he said.

Although most people don’t become ill when infected with West Nile virus, all are at risk, said Secretary of Health Michael Wolf. Older adults and those with compromised immune systems are most likely to become ill and develop severe complications, he said.

“We know West Nile virus is among us, and, while we don’t want to discourage citizens from enjoying Pennsylvania’s great outdoors, we want to ensure you are equipped with tips and information to do it safely,” Wolf said.

For example, mosquitoes that transmit the virus breed in areas with standing and stagnant water. Such environments can be eliminated by: removing tin cans, ceramic pots, discarded tires or any objects that collect standing water; drilling holes in the bottom of recycling containers left outdoors; cleaning roof gutters every year; turning over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows; and changing water in birdbaths frequently.

Standing water that cannot be eliminated should be treated with Bti products, which are sold at outdoor supply and home improvement stores, Wolf said. Bti is a natural product that kills mosquito larvae, but is safe for people, pets, aquatic life and plants.

The CDC also suggests using insect repellents that contain DEET, picaridin or IR3535 whenever going outdoors. Sprays with oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide longer-lasting protection. Mosquitoes can bite through thick clothing, so make sure to spray clothes with repellent as well.

West Nile can also infect animals, said Department of Agriculture Secretary George Greig, and pet owners need to take precautions, both for themselves and their animals.

“West Nile virus is a serious concern for humans, but it can also affect our animals, especially horses and birds,” Greig said. “Know the risks and follow the prevention tips to safeguard the health of your families and pets.”

According to the Department of Agriculture, as of June 19, there have been no reported veterinary West Nile cases this year, however there were 51 cases in Pennsylvania last year and most of them were found in horses. Horse owners should contact veterinarians about the vaccine for West Nile virus, Greig said.

For more information about West Nile virus and the state’s surveillance and control program, visit www.westnile.state.pa.us.