Tonawanda News — Recent tests have confirmed the West Nile virus continues to hold a grip on Erie County.
Erie County Health Department Commissioner Gale Burstein said she was informed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that 17 percent of the 207 “mosquito pools” tested have been found to carry the virus.
The county and state have been testing mosquitos for the presence of the virus for several years, while the 2012 results were taken on July 26. The disease was first identified in New York state in 1999.
“That’s the highest number that we’ve had up to this time of year since we started testing,” Burstein said.
The commissioner added that this year appears to have a higher carry rate than usual, which she said is likely due to stagnant water pockets because of the ongoing draught.
A City of Tonawanda resident also informed Mayor Ron Pilozzi this week that she had found several dead crows in her residential neighborhood. The animals were handed over to the county SPCA and then to the DEC, though it has not been confirmed whether they had been infected. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, crows are used to monitor the virus.
Connie Adams, a wildlife biologist with the DEC, said 35 crows have been brought into the SPCA in July alone. About a dozen of them were sent to a testing center in downstate New York, where it was confirmed they did indeed carry the virus. She also mentioned that she received five phone calls on Wednesday regarding the discovery of additional dead crows, four of which were found in Erie county.
“People are wondering why they are finding these dead birds in their backyards,” she said. “This is the biggest outbreak I’ve seen.”
Pilozzi said the resident initially believed the crows were killed by rat poison pellets left out in the open, though there has been no evidence to back that theory.
But Burstein said despite limited information on the birds found in Tonawanda, there is a real possibility that their demise could be related to the West Nile virus, while the county awaits detailed DEC testing results related to the birds. She also noted that the appearance of the virus in humans has not been found, though there have been several cases in previous years.
Burstein said considering the latest studies, residents should use common sense and wear appropriate clothing, while she also suggested they apply DEET, a potent mosquito repellent, to ward off any chance of infection.
The virus is known to bring on encephalitis, which can cause swelling of the brain. Milder symptoms can include stiffness and headaches. Burstein said the virus will likely not be eradicated any time soon and residents should prepare accordingly.
“I think this is just a truism for us now that it’s here to stay,” she said. “And it’s going to be here every
summer.”Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.