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West Nile Virus Found in 2 Pennsylvania Counties

The infected blood suckers are back.

The first two West Nile virus-carrying mosquitos of the season were detected last week in Erie and Adams counties, signaling the start of what could be a long summer.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) are advising people to take steps toward mosquito prevention.

Disposing of cans, buckets, plastic containers, ceramic pots or any other objects that hold stagnant water is the first step toward stopping the proliferation of mosquitos that spread West Nile virus. The DOH also suggests wearing long sleeve shirts, pants and socks, applying mosquito repellent and avoiding the active mosquito feeding hours of dusk and dawn in an effort to keep yourself from being exposed.

West Nile virus is contracted by blood-to-blood contact, typically from mosquitos. Humans, birds, horses and house pets are all susceptible to the virus. Severe cases, although rare, may result in a fever or West Nile encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain.

DOH spokeswoman Kait Gillis said only a small number of people have a strong reaction to the virus.

“About 80 percent of the population don’t see symptoms of it, but 20 percent do,” Gillis said. “Of that 20 percent, less than 1 percent are going to develop a severe illness like encephalitis or meningitis.”

Although all people are at risk of contracting the virus, the DOH says older adults and those with weak immune systems are most susceptible and have the highest risk of developing severe complications.

Pennsylvania’s first West Nile virus carrying mosquitos are typically found mid-June. Last year, the first positive mosquito was found May 3, the earliest ever recorded. The 2012 season logged the highest recorded number of virus cases in humans since 2003.

Amanda Witman, spokeswoman for the DEP, said it’s impossible for them to track the spread of the virus so early into the season, but she did note that Allegheny County tends to be a hotbed for mosquito activity.

“There’s a lot of concrete storm water retention basins, things like that that tend to hold water, as opposed to a more rural area that has grasses and ground and not as much pavement and asphalt," she said.

Witman said with only two reported mosquito groups carrying the virus in Pennsylvania, there is no need for immediate concern.

“There’s never reason for alarm,” Witman said, “but there’s always reason to take precaution and do some preventative things around the home.”