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Health & Wellness

West Nile Virus found among mosquitoes in Amherst

WBFO file photo

The Erie County Health Department reported Monday that West Nile Virus was positively identified within a pool of mosquitoes tested in the Town of Amherst.  State health officials are reminding the public to take precautionary steps to slow its spread.

West Nile Virus was first detected in Erie County in 1999. The Erie County Health Department says the Town of Amherst routinely conducts mosquito testing during warm weather months. The department, in a written release, says no other testing is currently happening in other locales but it is "highly suspected" that other areas of the county also have mosquito pools carrying West Nile Virus.

According to one state health official, it's here to stay. Bryon Backenson, a research scientist and epidemiologist for the New York State Health Department's Bureau of Communicable Disease Control, says the latest discovery of West Nile Virus in the Town of Amherst should not be a cause for panic but rather a reminder that residents should be taking steps to slow its spread.

"This is the time of year, late August through September, where we tend to see most of the West Nile activity," Backenson said. "It takes a lot of time to build up in the environment. By the time we get to late August and early September, it's when we start to have enough in the environment that we see problems, potentially, with people and so forth."

The virus is transmitted through a bite by an infected mosquito. The last confirmed case of a human infection in Erie County was reported in October 2012. According to the state health department, only one in every five people infected will suffer noticeable symptoms. These, according to Backenson, are flu-like symptoms including fever, chills and body aches. Symptoms usually occur between three days and two weeks after a bite by an infected mosquito.  

In very rare cases, a West Nile Virus infection may lead to more serious neuroinvasive conditions including meningitis and encephalitis. Such cases, according to the Erie County Health Department, occur in less than one percent of human infections.

Eliminating standing water sources is a critical means to reduce exposure to mosquitoes. These include clogged gutters, an unused children's swimming pool or uncovered garbage cans. Birdbath water should be changed frequently.

"There are a handful of mosquito species that can transmit West Nile and a lot of those are ones that live around us," Backenson said. "They tend to like containers of water.  They like dirty water."

Wearing long clothing and using mosquito repellant - especially with a concentration of 25 to 30 percent DEET - during outdoor activities is also encouraged. 

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