Summers in Central New York continue to raise concerns over illnesses carried by mosquitoes. And this summer is no exception. The concern is West Nile virus. YNN's Bill Carey says it appears to be everywhere.
ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. -- It was 11 years ago when routine trapping of mosquitoes in Onondaga County over the summer months, turned up the first traces of West Nile virus, which was showing signs of slowly spreading across the United States.
Over those 11 years, the cases have grown more frequent, occasionally affecting animals and humans.
Now, there are new results from traps this year. At Cicero Swamp, the Hamlin Marsh in Clay, Oneida Shores State Park, Beaver Lake Nature Center and in Jordan. All showed signs of the virus.
“What we have to assume, when we have five positive pools in five very different locations in our county, people have to assume that the mosquitoes are infected. That they're carrying West Nile. It doesn't really matter where you are, when it's this widespread, people should assume that there's a risk of West Nile in mosquitoes in Onondaga County,” said Onondaga County Health Commissioner Dr. Cynthia Morrow.
The area has long dealt with the sometimes deadly Eastern Equine Encephalitis. Signs of that illness have often lead to widespread spraying programs. That is not likely in this case.
“The mosquitoes that carry EEE typically come out of the Cicero Swamp. And that's an area we can spray. It's a contained area. But with West Nile, it's basically everywhere and it's not really practical to spray,” said Lisa Letteney, Director of Environmental Health Assessment.
Which puts most of the responsibility on people to take steps like reducing incidents of standing water, where mosquitoes can breed. And reducing personal risk by using bug repellents and wearing long pants and long sleeve shirts at mosquito feeding times between dusk and dawn.
In 2011, more than 700 people died from West Nile virus across the country. But when it's compared to other mosquito-borne illnesses, like Eastern Equine Encephalitis, health officials say it's not as severe a threat.
Morrow said, “Most people who are bitten aren't going to get West Nile. Most people who get West Nile are okay. But still, it's a risk and we want people to do whatever they can to reduce their risk.”
Even if the illness may not be as deadly as EEE, it is still something health officials say people should want to avoid.
There is some good news on the mosquito front this summer. The hot, dry weather we've been seeing may have contributed to a lower overall population of the bugs. Comparing the numbers trapped in various spots to the numbers from last year, health officials say, in some cases, the numbers are down by close to two-thirds.