HARRISBURG, Pa. – Pennsylvania has created a $3.3 million grants program to assist counties with mosquito surveillance and control in an effort to detect and control mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus.
The program was announced April 9 by the state departments of health, environmental protection, and agriculture.
“West Nile virus was detected in Pennsylvania for the first time last year,” said Robert S. Zimmerman, state health secretary. “Fortunately, no person here was diagnosed with the virus. But last year’s experience makes it clear that Pennsylvania’s surveillance efforts must continue.”
Last year, West Nile virus was found in 19 counties, identified in 32 birds, 45 mosquito pools and a horse.
Pennsylvania’s plan has three parts — public and professional education; surveillance; and, if surveillance determines there is a risk, the control of mosquitoes that carry the virus.
“This year, we’re expanding our effort to detect and track mosquitoes that carry the virus,” said acting environmental protection head David E. Hess. “We’re partnering with more counties to detect and control mosquitoes, and we’re giving them grants to cover the cost of equipment, supplies and training needs.
The Department of Environmental Protection is coordinating the mosquito-surveillance and -control portion of the multi-agency effort. DEP has been working with county West Nile coordinators to establish mosquito-monitoring sites across the Commonwealth to trap mosquitoes and sample larvae.
Last year more than 500,000 mosquitoes were captured, and and more than 2,100 samples send for testing.
DEP and county West Nile coordinators will look for immature (larvae and pupae) and adult mosquitoes to determine if they are the species known to carry the virus, how many there are and their geographic distribution.
If these mosquitoes are detected, they will be controlled using a powdered form of naturally occurring bacteria that is harmless to humans and other aquatic life.
If the Department of Health’s epidemiologist determines there is an outbreak or the potential for an outbreak, a mosquito-control program would be initiated. Adult mosquitoes carrying the virus would be controlled through localized pesticide spraying.
Mosquitoes acquire the virus from infected birds and horses. Those mosquitoes then transmit the virus to people and other animals.
The virus, when transmitted to people, can cause West Nile encephalitis, an infection that can cause an inflammation of the brain. Anyone can get the virus, but older adults and people with compromised immune systems have the highest risk of developing severe illness because their bodies have a harder time fighting off disease.