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Friday, August 28, 2009

Conservation District Announces end of West Nile virus Program due to Budget Impasse

McKean Spraying Cut Out
Until the General Assembly approves a final state budget, comprehensive West Nile Virus spraying programs must be suspended. DEP will end grant funding for the West Nile Virus Program in 36 counties on Sept. 1st including McKean.

Grant funding to the remaining 31 counties for spraying operations and protection will continue for the remainder of calendar year 2009. DEP will provide very limited monitoring in the areas where grant funding has been eliminated that have historically been associated with West Nile transmission. If mosquitoes in these areas are found to carry the virus, the department will take necessary measures to reduce the mosquito population through either larval or adult mosquito control.

McKean County has participated in the Pennsylvania’s West Nile virus program since it was started in 2001, and was implemented by Penn State Cooperative Extension for the first 6 years. In 2007, the McKean County Conservation District took over the local program. Heather McKean, Watershed Specialist for the District and West Nile Virus Program Coordinator, has been involved with the West Nile program since its inception. “It is unfortunate that we have had to end the mosquito surveillance and control program early this year. Although we have historically not seen high levels of West Nile virus in the county, the threat still exists and may increase without routine control of mosquito populations.”

Standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Certain species carry the West Nile Virus, which, when transmitted to people, can cause West Nile encephalitis, an infection that can result in an inflammation of the brain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all residents in areas where virus activity has been identified are at risk of getting West Nile encephalitis.

The virus has been detected in 24 counties and, last week, the Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed the first human case this year involving a woman in Luzerne County.

McKean reminds residents that “mosquito season is far from over and there are measures homeowners can take to help minimize exposure. The best way to control mosquitoes is to eliminate standing water, because water sitting for more than 4 days can produce mosquitoes.”

Here are additional steps individuals can take to help reduce mosquitoes:
• empty all containers that collect and hold water including tires, tin cans, buckets, tarps
• empty & change water in bird baths, flower pot trays, pet dishes, rain barrels, and wading pools
• clean debris from rain gutters & keep swimming pools treated and circulating
• drain swimming pools if they are not in use
• stock ornamental ponds with fish which will consume mosquito larvae
• follow label directions and precautions carefully if using mosquito repellents
• make sure window and door screens are “bug tight”
• horse owners are encouraged to contact their veterinarian for more information on the Equine West Nile virus vaccine

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