|Residents asked to help on West Nile virus|
Thursday, July 26, 2007
By Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
State and county agencies are getting the buzz out about the upcoming West Nile virus season and urging residents to eliminate mosquito breeding venues as a first line of defense.
At the state Department of Environmental Protection compound on Herrs Island Tuesday, state and Allegheny County Health Department employees showed off a variety of traps, insecticides, and truck- and RV-mounted spraying devices they use. The DEP also displayed an array of old tires, a wading pool and plastic children's toys that could collect rainwater and breed mosquitoes.
"DEP and county coordinators are working to keep the mosquitoes under control, but residents can also play a big role in controlling the population of these insects," said Kenneth Bowman, DEP regional director. "Remember: Dump it if it has water in it, drain it if it can be drained and treat it if it has standing water."
West Nile virus, native to Uganda in east-central Africa, was accidentally brought to the United States in 1999, most likely by a mosquito on a ship or plane. It spread quickly across the nation, transmitted back and forth between mosquitoes and birds over the next eight years, killing unknown numbers of birds, thousands of horses and about 1,000 people, including four in Allegheny County in 2002.
So far this year, no people, birds or mosquitoes have tested positive for West Nile in Allegheny County or the rest of southwestern Pennsylvania.
But that doesn't mean it won't be brought into the area by mosquitoes or birds as they begin the fall migration next month.
Matt Helwig, DEP West Nile virus specialist, said Blair, Centre, Franklin, Delaware and York counties have all had mosquitoes test positive for the virus already this year, including one in the Altoona area May 31.
"That was the earliest in the year we've ever collected a positive test," Mr. Helwig said. "It was a concern."
Last year, West Nile was detected in 48 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties.
This year, the state will spend $7.6 million on virus testing and control measures, mainly to fund programs managed by county agencies. Allegheny County will receive $200,000.
Bryan Diehl, DEP West Nile program coordinator, said each county is setting between five and 20 mosquito traps a night. When trapped mosquitoes test positive for the virus, pesticides are applied in a targeted way to destroy the larvae and adult insects.
Dave Zazac, a Health Department spokesman, said the county has just started a weeklong program to treat about 22,000 Pittsburgh storm-water catch basins to inhibit breeding of mosquitoes. A water-soluble pouch about the size of a tea bag containing pellets of a growth regulator will be thrown into each basin. The chemical is not harmful to people, pets or other aquatic life.
"West Nile will become an issue in August as birds migrate and the female mosquitoes turn their attention to other hosts, including pets and people," Mr. Zazac said. "And mosquitoes can overwinter in this area under cover, in things like catch basins. That's why we're treating them now."