Portage County escapes West Nile despite Ohio outbreaks

Brian Andrasak

West Nile virus has not caused any human deaths in Ohio this summer, but 22 cases have surfaced statewide.

In Kent, one blue jay tested positive for West Nile this summer, but otherwise, Portage County has avoided contact with the potentially deadly disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 41 deaths nationwide have been linked to West Nile, as of Sept. 20. California accounts for 13 of those deaths, far and away the top state in that category.

West Nile is known to cause encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain. Humans get infected with the virus when they are bitten by mosquitoes with the disease.

Mosquitoes contract the disease when they feed on infected birds.

According to DuWayne Porter, director of Environmental Health for Portage County, the responsibility for spraying and larviciding to control the mosquito population rests with individual cities in the county.

“Right now as it sits, because of our financial situation (mosquito control) is not one of our priorities; however it is on our watch list,” Porter said.

The county does trap and test mosquitoes in order to determine which areas have mosquitoes that are carrying West Nile.

Kent conducts larviciding all summer long. Larviciding is effective in disrupting a mosquito’s life cycle while still in the larvae stage, preventing development into adulthood.

The city uses a product called Mosquito Mist One pesticide in its adult spraying program. Kent only sprayed a few times this summer due to a dry season that caused a dip in the mosquito population.

John Ferlito, commissioner of the Kent Health Department, said two areas have been targeted by spraying efforts, one being near Davey Elementary School on North Prospect, and the other in the vicinity of Morris Road and state Route 261, south of Kent State’s campus.

“It’s a pesticide, and like any pesticide, we try not to use it anymore than we have to,” Ferlito said. “We have a list of people that we do call and tell them (when we are spraying).”

Ferlito said that spraying in Kent may occur again before the season is over, but the need for adult pesticide almost always ends when October begins.

Kent spends approximately $12,000 on its West Nile program, which includes manpower, chemicals and equipment.

It does not make sense for the county to attempt adult spraying, Porter said.

“With the county the size of ours and as rural as it is, we are not going to get to all the areas by driving roads. It would almost be a waste of our money to spray,” Porter said. “If we were to have a program, it would be larviciding.”

Since its discovery in New York City in the summer of 1999, West Nile has claimed at least 500 lives in the United States, while more than 15,000 people have tested positive for the virus. Forty-one Ohioans have lost their lives due to illnesses connected to West Nile, including two in 2004, eight in 2003 and 31 in 2001.

Contact public affairs reporter Brian Andrasak at [email protected].