The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has added the borough of Tamaqua to the growing list of Schuylkill County municipalities infected with the West Nile virus. Other affected Schuylkill County communities are Ringtown, Cressona, Pine Grove and Schuylkill Haven.

According to Pennsylvania's West Nile Virus Control Program website, the West Nile virus appeared for the first time in Pennsylvania in 2000 in birds, mosquitoes and a horse. To combat the spread of the virus, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, Pennsylvania has developed a comprehensive network. This network covers 40 counties and includes trapping mosquitoes, collecting dead birds and monitoring horses, people and, in past years, sentinel chickens.

The website also states that a total of eight people have been infected by the West Nile virus. Three have had the fever; the remaining have had encephalitis and or meningitis. The counties in which they reside consist of Bucks, Centre, Delaware, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon and Lehigh. None have been reported in Schuylkill County.

The first case of the virus in the state this year was detected in a mosquito on May 3 in Exeter Township, Berks County. It was the earliest case since testing started in 2000. No cases of West Nile were found in the United States before 1999, according to the state.

Currently, there are no human cases in Schuylkill County. The last human case of the virus was reported in 2003.

This year, a total of 47 counties have tested positive for the West Nile virus. Of those, Chester, Lehigh, Lancaster, Delaware and Montgomery counties tested high. Mahanoy Township was the first Schuylkill County municipality to test positive on June 19 and later on July 31. It was also found in Cressona on July 10, 31 and Aug. 14. Mosquitoes tested positive for the virus in Pine Grove Township on July 17, 31, and Aug. 14.

West Nile virus causes flu-like symptoms and can result in encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, which can lead to death.

Symptoms could include headache, fever, body aches and other symptoms. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) said approximately one in 150 people who are infected develop a severe illness; up to 20 percent suffer some symptoms that could last from a few days to weeks and about 80 percent of people show no symptoms at all. The resulting symptoms primarily occur within three to 14 days after being bitten. The website states that people 50 and older are more likely to develop more severe symptoms.

In addition to aircraft and other means, the control program utilizes four trucks mounted with Ultra-Low Volume (ULV) systems. These trucks are used to treat adult mosquitoes in areas with high numbers of mosquitoes capable of transmitting West Nile virus.

"There's no spraying planned right now," said Colleen Connelly, spokeswoman for the northeast regional DEP. "However, monitoring will continue. No human cases of infection are known in the county."

Spread by mosquitoes, the West Nile virus is named after the area in Uganda where it first appeared.

State DEP and county mosquito control professionals use Bti (Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis), a naturally occurring bacteria, to kill mosquito larvae. This material is now becoming widely available for home use. Bti can be purchased in small, doughnut-shaped form, often called "mosquito dunks," which are useful in small areas of standing water, such as a birdbath or small puddle of water that may gather in a low spot on your property. A granular form of Bti is available, and effective for larger areas, such as backyard ponds. Bti can be purchased in many lawn and garden, outdoor supply, and home improvement stores. The bacteria kills only mosquito and black fly larvae. It is not harmful to people, pets, aquatic life (such as fish) or plants.

From Jan. 1 to Aug. 14, there have been 693 nationally reported cases in 43 states, of people infected with the West Nile virus, 200 of which were from Texas. Nationwide, there have been 26 deaths attributed to the virus.

Last year, in Schuylkill County, the virus was detected in mosquitoes in Landingville and Tamaqua boroughs, and in Pine Grove, West Mahanoy and Tremont townships.

DEP officials state the best way to control mosquitoes is to get rid of standing water on your property, as mosquitoes tend to breed in standing water, uncovered pools, buckets, flower pots and other containers.

"You've got to take that 5 or 10 minutes to remove that standing water away," added Connolly. "That extra time can help prevent the virus."

Officials add that wearing light clothing and using insect repellent can also reduce the risk.

More information about the West Nile Virus can be found by visiting http://www.westnile.state.pa.us/ [2] or http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/index.htm [3].