The Pa. Department of Environmental Protection has confirmed that West Nile Virus is prevalent in our area.

On August 14, a mosquito in Tamaqua tested positive for West Nile. The same date, there was a positive testing in Schuylkill Haven. So far this year, there are 13 positive testings for West Nile in mosquito samples in Schuylkill. Fortunately, there are no human cases in the county.

Carbon County has had three positive mosquito testings this summer. They were in Jim Thorpe, Palmerton, and Lower Towamensing Township.

Lehigh County has had 90 positive tests, 85 of them in mosquitoes. Lehigh also has had one case of human West Nile.

The number of positive testings for West Nile Virus in the state is in the thousands, meaning the problem has to be taken seriously.

According to the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection, West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne disease that can cause encephalitis, a brain inflammation.

Infected mosquitoes pass the virus onto birds, animals and people. West Nile virus was first detected in North America in 1999 in New York, and in Pennsylvania in 2000. Prior to that it had only been found in Africa, Eastern Europe, and West Asia. West Nile virus cases occur primarily in the mid summer or early fall, although mosquito season is usually April-October.

Residents play an important role in Pennsylvania's West Nile surveillance efforts. Since mosquitoes breed in standing water, any time is a good time to eliminate water left in flowerpots, cans, birdbaths, small ponds, and/or tire piles. Regarding birdbaths, its important not to let water stagnate in them.

Ornamental ponds with permanent standing water should be aerated or treated with BTI to cut down on mosquito bites and West Nile Virus transmission.

Two days ago, while The TIMES NEWS reported on a positive testing in Tamaqua, the Post Standard newspaper in Syracuse, N.Y. carried a much sadder article. An elderly Onondaga County resident has died of West Nile virus.

Fortunately, Pennsylvania has no deaths from West Nile Virus, but the potential is there.

But it is important for property owners to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds, especially debris such as old tires where water can pond inside.

One reason why the West Nile problem is becoming more significant is that the bat population is dying from a fungus disease called white-nose syndrome. Bats help control the mosquito population.

This problem is so severe that experts fear it could bring some species of bats to extinction. White-nose syndrome has killed roughly 5.7 million North American bats since its 2006 discovery in a New York state cave.

Now it's up to us humans to protect ourselves in the fight against West Nile Virus. To do this, we need good housekeeping habits in our outdoor environment.

Specifically, we must eliminate the breeding grounds of mosquitoes in our residential areas, and wear good protection when venturing outdoors in the evenings until the summer season is over.

By Ron Gower

rgower@tnonline.com