Since it was first discovered in mosquitos, birds, people and other North American animals in 1999, West Nile Virus has come to be recognized as a potential killer for which there is no treatment.

 Since it was first discovered in mosquitos, birds, people and other North American animals in 1999, West Nile Virus has come to be recognized as a potential killer for which there is no treatment.

 Though the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia says less than 20 percent of infected people will ever show symptoms of the virus, those who do contract West Nile Fever sometimes go on to develop a life-threatening form of encephalitis or meningitis. It is estimated that 1 in 150 infected people will develop a more severe form of disease.

However, less than one percent of all West Nile cases proves fatal.

 Fortunately, there is a lot one can do to minimize their risk.

 In 2000, West Nile virus appeared in Pennsylvania for the first time.  The Pennsylvania departments of Health, Environmental Protection (DEP) and Agriculture developed a comprehensive three-part surveillance program that same year to help detect, track and control the virus.

 The Department of Health conducts laboratory testing to confirm West Nile virus cases, and monitors any possible human cases.  In addition, it works with health care providers across the state to educate them about the signs and symptoms of West Nile virus.

 DEP has been working with representatives from all 67 counties to develop a comprehensive mosquito surveillance and control network. Since the virus is transmitted mainly by mosquitoes, early detection and control is key. It also collects and tests dead bird samples.

The Department of Agriculture also monitors animal populations for any signs of the virus.

Residents play an important role in Pennsylvania's West Nile surveillance efforts, officials say.

 Perhaps the most important role this year.

 Mosquito season runs from April through October. Coupled with all the rain we’ve had so far this year, 2011 promises to bring a bumper crop of mosquitos, since the little biters like to breed in standing water. Because of this fact, any time is a good time to eliminate water left in flowerpots, cans, birdbaths, small ponds, and/or tire piles.

 Unlike the harmful pesticides used to combat the pests a decade ago, State DEP and county mosquito control professionals have been using Bti— a naturally occurring bacterial strain very similar to the one used to kill gypsy moths— to kill mosquito larvae in recent years.

 Previously unavailable to the general public, this material is now becoming widely available to buy and use yourself at home.

 Bacillus thuringiensis Israelensis (Bti) is a soil dwelling bacteria used as a biological alternative to pesticides and insecticides. Protein spores produced by the bacterium are toxic to the digestive system of mosquito larvae, but are said to have no ill effects on the environment, wildlife, or humans.

 Bti kills mosquito larvae in the water before the bugs grow into the blood-sucking stage. As the larvae feed, they consume the BTI spores which deliver the toxins to the digestive system, starving them.

 Bti can be purchased in many lawn and garden, outdoor supply, and home improvement stores. It can be purchased in small, donut-shaped form, often called "mosquito dunks", which are useful in small areas of standing water, such as a birdbath or a small puddle that may gather in a low spot on your property. A granular form of Bti is also available for larger areas of standing water such as backyard ponds.

 The best way to control mosquitoes is still to get rid of standing water on your property.

 Remember: Of the 60 different species of mosquitoes in Pennsylvania, a number have been found that do transmit the virus. According to the West Nile Virus Website hosted by DEP, The Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture, Even a small bucket that has stagnant water in it for seven days can become home to up to 1,000 mosquitoes.  

 The consortium’s website also offers some easy tips to eliminate standing water on your property:

   1. Dispose of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar water holding containers that have accumulated on your property. Do not overlook containers that have become overgrown by aquatic vegetation.

   2. Pay special attention to discarded tires that may have accumulated on your property.

   3. Drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers that are left out of doors. Drainage holes that are located on the container sides collect enough water for mosquitoes to breed in.

   4. Clean clogged roof gutters on an annual basis, particularly if the leaves from surrounding trees have a tendency to plug up the drains. Roof gutters are easily overlooked but can produce millions of mosquitoes each season.

   5. Turn over plastic wading pools when not in use. A wading pool becomes a mosquito producer if it is not used on a regular basis.

   6. Turn over wheelbarrows and do not allow water to stagnate in birdbaths. Both provide breeding habitat for domestic mosquitoes.

   7. Aerate ornamental pools or stock them with fish. Water gardens are fashionable but become major mosquito producers if they are allowed to stagnate. Clean and chlorinate swimming pools that are not being used. A swimming pool that is left untended by a family that goes on vacation for a month can produce enough mosquitoes to result in neighborhood-wide complaints. Be aware that mosquitoes may even breed in the water that collects on swimming pool covers.

For more information, visit the West Nile consortium’s website at or call 1-877-PA-HEALTH toll-free for health related questions.