HARRISBURG Pennsylvania, this week, reported the earliest detection of a West Nile virus-carrying mosquito since testing began in 2000. The infected mosquito was found May 3, in Exeter Township, Berks County, the departments of Environmental Protection and Health announced.
"The unseasonably warm weather in March caused the virus cycle to begin early this year," DEP Secretary Mike Krancer said. "Our staff will continue to monitor mosquito populations and conduct spraying to reduce the threat to public health."
In 2004, Pennsylvania began its integrated pest management program, which has improved identification and control of mosquito populations. Certain mosquito species carry the virus, which may cause humans to contract West Nile fever or West Nile encephalitis, an infection that can result in inflammation of the brain.
Typically, the state's first West Nile Virus-carrying mosquito is found in mid-June. The previous earliest find came on May 17, 2011.
Last year, West Nile virus was detected in 59 counties, resulting in six human cases reported statewide.
"Since there is no human vaccine for West Nile Virus, the best way to prevent infection is to take precautions to avoid getting mosquito bites," Department of Health Secretary Dr. Eli Avila said.
Although most people do not become ill when infected with West Nile virus, all are at risk. Older adults and those with compromised immune systems have the highest risk of becoming ill and developing severe complications.
The best defense against West Nile virus is to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in stagnant water around homes, weeds, tall grass, shrubbery and discarded tires.
Individuals can take a number of precautionary measures around their homes to help eliminate mosquito-breeding areas, including:
Ÿ Dispose of cans, buckets, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar containers that hold water on your property.
Ÿ Properly dispose of discarded tires that can collect water. Stagnant water is where most mosquitoes breed.
Ÿ Drill holes in the bottom of outdoor recycling containers.
Ÿ Have roof gutters cleaned regularly, particularly if the leaves from surrounding trees have a tendency to block drains.
Ÿ Turn over plastic wading pools when not in use.
Ÿ Turn over wheelbarrows and don't let water stagnate in birdbaths.
Ÿ Aerate ornamental pools or stock them with fish.
Ÿ Clean and chlorinate swimming pools not in use and remove any water that may collect on pool covers.
For stagnant pools of water, homeowners can buy Bti products at lawn and garden, outdoor supply, home improvement and other stores. Bti is a naturally occurring bacteria that kills mosquito larva but is safe for people, pets, aquatic life and plants.
Additionally, these simple precautions can prevent mosquito bites, particularly for people who are most at risk:
Ÿ Make sure screens fit tightly over doors and windows to keep mosquitoes out of homes.
Ÿ Consider wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks when outdoors, particularly when mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk, or in areas known for having large numbers of mosquitoes.
Ÿ When possible, reduce outdoor exposure at dawn and dusk during peak mosquito periods.
Ÿ Use insect repellants according to the manufacturer's instructions. An effective repellant will contain DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Consult with a pediatrician or family physician if you have questions about the use of repellant on children, as repellant is not recommended for children under the age of two months.
For more information about West Nile virus and the state's surveillance and control program, visit www.westnile.state.pa.us.