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West Nile makes its first stop in Belleville

By Kristen Oelschlagel



BELLEVILLE (25/07/12) Aptie Sookoo, public health inspector with the Hastings and Prince Edward Counties Health Unit, sets up a mosquito trap on Queen St. in Belleville. Photo by Kristen Oelschlagel.

West Nile virus has made another appearance in the area, and it could have some potentially devastating health effects.

The first pool of mosquitoes in Hastings and Prince Edward Counties to test positive for West Nile Virus were found in Belleville. Serwotka said the mosquitoes, collected on July 17, were from a trap in the south central area of Belleville, in a residential area not far from downtown. The group of mosquitoes from the trap was sent to GDG Laboratory where they tested positive for West Nile.

“Seriousness varies depending on the individual. We’ve learned that West Nile is a rather mild disease but in some cases people do develop an encephalitis that can be quite severe and potentially kill you,” said Eric Serwotka, director of environmental health for the Hastings and Prince Edward Counties Health Unit.

Residents who live in the city might actually be at a greater risk for catching the virus than those who live in the country. Serwotka said mosquitoes in urban areas are more likely to carry West Nile than the ones out in a bush area.

“There’s only two or three kinds (of mosquitoes) where West Nile is likely to be a problem. That mosquito population tends to be found in urban areas because the types of mosquitoes associated with the virus tend to dwell in catch basins and protected areas,” he said.

While people are susceptible to the virus, Serwotka said most animals aren’t. Other than birds, the only animals that tend to be sensitive to it are horses so it’s unlikely the virus will affect any house pets.

Serwotka said cases tend to come up between mid-July to late August, but that the number of cases has decreased over the years.

“We had a couple positive mosquito pools and a human case last year, but it seems to have decreased since we first started following it,” he said.

The confirmed case of West Nile in mosquitoes came shortly after two dead birds in Prince Edward County tested positive for the virus.

“I think it’s a pretty good indicator that it’s in our area and it’s active. I can’t say that it’s not in other parts of the area besides the one with the positive trap found. Mosquitoes generally only travel up to half a kilometer, but birds can travel quite a bit farther,” Serwotka said.

He said there are things the health unit is doing to reduce mosquito breeding areas.

“If there’s any standing water or poor drainage we would act on that and investigate. We would let property owners know they’re obligated to get rid of the standing water (on their property) and if there’s a municipal drainage issue we would ask the municipality to clean it up.”

If the virus becomes a growing problem, larvicides or something similar could be used to kill the mosquito larvae but only as a last resort.

To protect yourself from the virus, the health unit recommends people use mosquito repellent containing DEET, cover exposed skin with light coloured clothing, and make sure there is no stagnant water on their property.