Region ready to keep West Nile at bay

Erie Times-News

By Emily Babay

Even as summer — and mosquito season — approaches, the threat of humans catching West Nile virus has largely disappeared in Erie County.

Local health officials are beginning their annual campaign to fight the virus, a mosquito-borne disease that can cause potentially fatal swelling in the brain. Officials say the decline in West Nile cases that has occurred over the past several years is a trend that extends across Pennsylvania and is primarily due to measures aimed at lowering the mosquito population.

In 2007, one mosquito pool and one bird tested positive for West Nile virus in Erie County. The last human case in the county was reported in 2004.

Crawford County had one positive mosquito pool in 2007.

Statewide, nine humans, 223 mosquito pools and 10 birds tested positive for the virus in 2007, according to data from the state’s surveillance program. Those numbers show a significant drop from 2003, when 237 humans, 954 mosquito pools and 546 birds tested positive, and 2002, when 62 humans, 674 mosquito pools and 1,437 birds tested positive.

Current local efforts involve finding mosquito larvae in areas of standing water, where mosquitoes are likely to breed, and using larvacide to kill the larvae before they hatch, said Karen Tobin, environmental health supervisor for the Erie County Health Department.

Officials have also set traps over the past two weeks to catch adult mosquitoes, said Jeff Bresslin, an environmental health technician, but the traps have not captured any insects yet. He said low temperatures have contributed to the small mosquito population.

Initiatives to curb the number of mosquitoes have been the county’s main approach to prevention over the past five years.

“The more mosquitoes we kill, the less chance there is of somebody getting West Nile virus,” Bresslin said.

Such measures are important, said Reza Nassiri, a Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine professor of pharmacology and virology, because West Nile “has not been a major threat but it is a public health concern that could happen at any time.”

The monitoring efforts have helped officials target areas each year known to have high mosquito populations. Tobin said these sites include areas near the Millcreek Golf & Learning Center, the city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant and Asbury Woods.

Dry weather, she said, also helped keep 2007’s count low.

Despite the declining number of area cases, Erie County received a small increase in state funding to fight West Nile virus. This year, the county received $105,179 from the state, up from $95,156 in 2007.

The increase is meant to compensate for salary and rent increases, as well as for higher gas prices, Tobin said.

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