Simple Measures Help Prevent Spread Of West Nile Virus

Armen Hareyan's picture

West Nile Virus

Allegheny County residents reminded of simple steps they can take to control mosquitoes in their own yards -- an important effort in combating the spread of the West Nile virus.

"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 Environmental Protection Regional Director Kenneth Bowman. "Remember: dump it if it has water in it; drain it if it can be drained; and treat it if it has standing water. These are easy measures that everyone can take in their own back yards to help protect themselves and their family from the West Nile virus."

Bowman provided the following tips to eliminate mosquito-breeding sites around the home:

-- Identify and eliminate all sources of standing water that collects on your property. Mosquitoes will breed in any puddle that lasts for more than four days.

-- Dispose of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar water holding containers that have collected on your property. Do not overlook containers that have become overgrown by aquatic vegetation.

-- Pay special attention to discarded tires that may have collected water on your property. They can serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

-- Drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers that are left out of doors. Drainage holes that are located on the container sides collect enough water for mosquitoes to breed in.

-- Have clogged roof gutters cleaned on an annual basis, particularly if the leaves from surrounding trees have a tendency to block drains.

-- Turn over plastic wading pools when not in use. A wading pool becomes a place for mosquitoes to breed if it is not used on a regular basis.

-- Turn over wheelbarrows and do not allow water to stagnate in birdbaths.


-- Aerate ornamental pools or stock them with fish. Water gardens are fashionable but become major mosquito breeding grounds if they are allowed to stagnate.

-- Keep swimming pools clean and chlorinated. A swimming pool that is left untended for a month becomes a source of mosquito breeding. Be aware that mosquitoes may even breed in the water that collects on swimming pool covers.

DEP has used the experience and knowledge gained over the last seven years of fighting the West Nile virus to develop strategies that efficiently target resources to maximize impact. For the last several weeks, DEP has worked with counties to conduct aggressive mosquito surveillance and, when needed, implement control activities.

DEP and county West Nile coordinators monitor the type, location and population of immature (larvae and pupae) and adult mosquitoes. This information is then used to treat those areas with high populations of mosquitoes that are known West Nile carriers.

Pennsylvania's aggressive approach has contributed to a drop in the number of human cases of West Nile virus. The virus, when transmitted to people, can cause West Nile fever and encephalitis, an infection that can cause an inflammation of the brain.

Last year, the West Nile virus was found in 48 Pennsylvania counties. In Allegheny, Beaver and Westmoreland counties, it was found only in birds and mosquitoes. However, it wasn't detected at all in Fayette and Greene counties.

Most people bitten by an infected mosquito will never develop any symptoms, and only one in 150 who develops symptoms will develop the more serious West Nile encephalitis, a swelling of the brain that can cause serious health problems, including death.

In 2005, 25 residents contracted the disease, with no deaths attributed to the virus. In 2006, two of the nine Pennsylvanians who contracted West Nile virus died.

Currently, DEP is targeting the mosquito genus, Culex. By reducing the number of Culex mosquitoes early in the season, DEP can reduce the spread of the virus.

Mosquitoes acquire the virus from infected birds. Those mosquitoes then transmit the virus to people and other animals.

Residents are reminded to report dead crows, blue jays and hawks, which can indicate the presence of the West Nile virus in an area.

The West Nile control coordinators will collect a limited number of dead crows, blue jays, hawks, owls, eagles and falcons for testing from May 1 through Oct. 31. Residents who have discovered a dead bird and would like to submit it for testing should call the local West Nile county coordinator.

When handling dead birds, use rubber gloves. If you do not have gloves, insert your hand into a plastic bag, grasp the bird carefully and invert the bag over the bird. Each bird should be placed in a tied plastic bag and then placed inside a second tied bag. If you are not submitting the bird for testing, the bagged bird can be placed in the trash. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water when you're finished.