West Nile Virus: County keeping tabs on mosquitoes

When adult softball teams take the fields around the Centre Region on weeknights, the players sometimes aren’t sure if they’re playing on a softball field or in a swamp.

After being inundated with higher-than-average rain totals this summer, Ronald Woodhead, director of Centre Region Parks and Recreation, said recent frequents rains have meant busy times for CRPR, fielding complaints about standing water and the mosquitoes it attracts.

“It’s mainly in the outfield of those fields,” he said. “To some degree, we do monitor it and also let nature run it course.”

While mosquitoes are attracted to damp and humid areas, Centre County officials are working to control the situation by spraying areas of infestation and giving advice on how to beat the bite.

Centre Region Parks and Recreation has a “Fight the Bite” educational program that gives tips to residents on how to prevent the threats that come with coming into contact with mosquitoes.

“I think we’re giving people a heads up or putting out public service messages,” Woodhead said.

According to Pennsylvania’s West Nile virus control program, there have been no reports of mosquitoes testing positive for the virus this year in Centre County. The same holds true for all other central Pennsylvania counties, according to a document from the department.

Mosquito maintenance

Last week, mosquito spraying took place around the county.

According to Jay Maneval, a water pollution biologist with the Department of Environmental Protection, the spraying was sparked by reports of a high population of adult mosquitoes capable of transmitting the virus.

The heaviest watch is in Rush Township, where Bert Lavan, the county’s West Nile program coordinator, said the insects pose the biggest pest and public health issue.

“Rush Township seems to be most impacted by mosquitoes because of the amount of standing water,” Lavan said. “We’ve had some complaints, but the residents are patient.”

Lavan said some of the town is in a floodplain from Red Moshannon Creek and has a lot of high-water incidents. Other areas in the town are in low-lying areas where water does not drain well.

Given a $55,200 grant through the DEP, Centre County puts that money specifically toward mosquito maintenance including labor, mileage and equipment from April 1 through the end of September.

“These products are designed to provide quick knockdown and effective control of adult mosquitoes,” Maneval said about the spray used throughout the night.

But more than spraying townships to limit the mosquitoes, Lavan said the thrust of his work is surveillance and trapping mosquitoes and testing for the virus. These trappings occur in all 35 municipalities, he said.

“We’re putting treatment in standing water to prevent breeding and hatching anywhere in the county where we find a situation,” Lavan said. “We mainly do spraying because the mosquitoes are a nuisance to residents.”

According to reports from that state’s West Nile program, there were 25 human case reported throughout the commonwealth last year.

Lavan said last year, there were 84 cases in Centre County alone: one human case, 28 bird cases, three in horses and 52 in mosquitoes.

“This year has been a very surprisingly slow year considering how much it was last year,” Lavan said.

He attributes this to a cooler winter.

“Last year we barely had winter,” he said. “I was finding mosquitoes in early March.”

Weather and mosquitoes

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service in State College confirmed that weather and the number of mosquitoes in an area are related.

“This seems to be the case,” said meteorologist Craig Evanego. “When it’s humid or there is standing water, it seems to be more favorable to mosquitoes.”

He said the dew point is expected creep back up into the weekend. Dew point is a measure of how much moisture is in the air that determines the percentage of humidity, Evanego said.

According to the Climate Prediction Center, a three-month State College-area outlook was conducted for July through September that shows a trend of temperatures, dew points and precipitation that is slightly above average, Evanego said.

Evanego said for July, State College averages 3.52 inches of rain, with an 81.6-degree average and dew points that range from the mid-50s to mid-60s.

“Once you get higher than that, then you can really start to feel the humidity,” Evanego said. “And that’s when you’ll probably see more bugs.”

At the hospital

Marlene Stetson, infection prevention and control coordinator at Mount Nittany Medical Center, said no cases of West Nile have been confirmed at the hospital this year, but most people with the virus experience mild symptoms of infection or no symptoms at all and are not typically hospitalized.

“Only a small percentage of those infected develop more serious symptoms that bring them to the medical center for treatment,” she said.

Stetson said symptoms of more serious illness include fever, headache and neck stiffness.

“About 20 percent of people develop a mild infection called West Nile fever and may experience signs of fever, headache, body aches, fatigue, back pain and occasionally skin rash,” she added.

Stetson said mild symptoms of West Nile fever usually resolve on their own.

But while Lavan called this year a “slow year” for West Nile virus outbreaks, his department is still being vigilant in mosquito maintenance. He said West Nile activity is at its peak in the late summer.

“I think any prevention is just getting the word out to be safe when it comes to being outdoors,” Lavan said.