HARRISBURG — After a record-setting year in Pennsylvania, more than two dozen counties, including Luzerne and Lackawanna, are seeing a boost to their state grants to control West Nile Virus this year.
The Department of Environmental Protection awarded nearly $2.2 million in West Nile Virus Control program grants to 26 counties, which are slated to begin surveillance activities in early April. That equates to about $20,000 more per county than the funds allocated in 2012 — with the additional grant funding to be used to cover the costs of new spray equipment.
“This grant funding will help the counties that are most affected by West Nile Virus to monitor and control mosquitoes,” DEP Secretary Mike Krancer said in a news release.
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 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 and 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.
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.
The 2013 West Nile Virus Control grants announced for local counties are: Luzerne, $79,500; Lackawanna, $55,411; and Monroe, $30,000.
Aaron Stredny, the Luzerne County coordinator for the West Nile Control Program, said: “This year our seasonal staff returns on April 15 to begin pre-emptive larviciding. The larviciding will focus in and around mapped historical breeding habitats throughout the county.”
Stredny said: “This early larval treatment is paramount in reducing the adult population of mosquitoes through the summer months and into autumn. In turn, this early attack also aids in lowering the infection rate of WNV carrying mosquitoes within the mosquito-breeding season, keeping the public’s risk low.”