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Health, Science & Tech

Allegheny County Gets Grant To Fight West Nile Virus

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has awarded about $2.1 million in grants to 26 counties to combat West Nile Virus.

Allegheny County received $168,114 to study and control the virus-carrying mosquito populations. Philadelphia County got the most at $231,298.

DEP spokeswoman Amanda Witman said West Nile Virus studies are best handled at the local level.

“We find that it is most beneficial to award these grants to counties because they are the boots on the ground,” she said. “They’re able to be right there where the problem exists and respond in a way that is most effective.”

While the majority of funding is used for trapping and studying mosquitoes, West Nile Virus education is also financed by the grants, according to Witman.

“When we’re able to give grants to the counties so that they can execute their programs on the most localized level possible, we find that the West Nile Virus Control is much more effective,” she said.

The number of West Nile Virus cases varies from year-to-year. In 2012, 60 human cases of the virus were reported and more than 4,000 virus carrying-mosquitos were detected by the DEP. Last year, there were 11 human cases and the DEP found 1,213 infected mosquitos, according to the DEP.

A study by Virginia Tech entomology professor Thomas Kuhar found the polar vortex killed 95 percent of brown marmorated stink bugs this winter. The same can’t be said for mosquitos.

“Unfortunately, the harsh winter that we have had will have little to no bearing on the prevalence of the mosquito populations and West Nile Virus within those mosquito populations,” she said. “The mosquitos that carry the virus respond to the of the moment weather.”

Witman said removing all buckets, cans, containers, or any object that can hold shallow, stagnant water is the first step in preventing the spread of mosquitos. Applying mosquito repellent and avoiding the active mosquito feeding hours of dusk and dawn can also help prevent the spread of the virus to humans.