Two mosquitoes and one bird tested positive last month for the West Nile Virus in Pennsylvania, much earlier than the typical first positives are reported but much later than the first positive was registered in the state last year.
The mosquitoes were collected in Erie County on May 22 and Adams County on May 23 and the test results made public more than a week later. The crow, also from Erie County, was collected May 30 and the results made public Tuesday.
The state Department of Environmental Protection quickly put out an announcement alerting the public of the findings and highlighting ways to prevent the potentially deadly disease.
“This early detection serves as a reminder that all residents should take proper precautions to protect against mosquitoes,” Acting DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo said. “Removing standing water from flower pots, bird baths and other vessels is an important first step in mosquito prevention.”
Aaron J. Stredny, who oversees West Nile Virus surveillance for the Luzerne Conservation District, noted that last year the first positive in the county was reported May 8.
He said the delayed start locally this year is likely thanks to the hard freeze that occurred in mid-May.
“While the farmers were suffering, we were rejoicing,” Stredny said.
Last year was a different story.
Because of the mild winter and early spring, 2012 proved to be a record year for the virus in Pennsylvania. The first positive mosquito was discovered in Berks County on May 4, the earliest ever on record. That kicked off a year that brought 3,656 positive tests for the virus, the highest recorded numbers of human, bird, mosquito and veterinary positives since 2003.
In Luzerne County there were 139 positives. The virus led to the death of four people statewide, including retired Wilkes-Barre police officer Joseph Krawetz, who died in August at age 82 after being bitten by a virus-carrying mosquito. There were 60 Pennsylvanians who tested positive for the disease last year.
In humans, the virus can cause West Nile fever and encephalitis, an infection that can cause inflammation of the brain and death. Most people bitten by an infected mosquito will never develop any symptoms, and only one person out of 150 people with symptoms will develop the more serious West Nile encephalitis.
Amanda Witman, a DEP spokeswoman, said the second consecutive year of pre-June positives isn’t throwing up a red flag for the department, but she agreed that “we’re well ahead of the average beginning of the season.”
There were hopes that the cooler winter than last year’s might help keep the numbers down, or at least delay the start of the season, but Witman said that after 13 years of monitoring the virus and the mosquitoes that carry it, there’s one thing DEP has learned.
“The mosquitoes and the spread of the virus can be unpredictable,” Witman said.