By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- For the past few summers, Jerry Foster has diligently set mosquito traps in Lawrence County waiting for the West Nile virus to arrive.
This summer, it finally came.
Foster, 24, of New Castle, a biology major at Slippery Rock University, is part of the county's effort to monitor the West Nile virus.
The disease, which originated in Africa, is sweeping across the United States in the form of infected birds and mosquitoes.
The Centers for Disease Control is reporting that 13 people have died from the disease, which mostly affects the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, and 269 nonfatal cases have been confirmed. Those infected by it may get flulike symptoms or none at all, according to health officials.
So far, no human cases of West Nile virus have been detected in Lawrence County. But five dead birds with the disease have turned up throughout the region.
West Nile has also shown up in Mercer, Butler and Mahoning counties.
Friday, Ohio officials reported a death they say could have come from the virus.
Foster's efforts keep him busy from April through October, setting traps for mosquitoes throughout the county that sometimes yield few mosquitoes. None has tested positive for the virus yet.
Transmitting the virus
Health officials say once they find mosquitoes with the disease, humans are most at risk for contracting West Nile virus because it is the mosquitoes who transmit the disease to humans.
Infected mosquitoes deposit the virus in a person's system as they take their blood meals.
Cynthia Swihart says she's not too concerned about contracting West Nile virus, but she did worry about a dead bird found near her Wilmington Township home two weeks ago. There was no apparent reason for the bird's death, she said.
"That's not something we normally see. I knew it wasn't right," she said. "To see a bird just laying there in the middle of the road seems kind of weird."
Swihart called health officials to report it, but they couldn't take if for a few days. She said she later disposed of it herself because she feared that neighborhood children or pets might touch it.
While it is not known whether the bird was infected with West Nile virus, Swihart said there are plenty of mosquitoes near her property, which has a large pond.
Foster set traps there last week to determine whether any of the mosquitoes are infected with West Nile. Testing should be done this week.
While there, he also found several buckets with stagnant water that contained thousands of mosquito larvae. He advised her to get rid of them and make certain no other standing water collects.
Health officials have been warning people to be wary of stagnant water because it is a prime breeding ground for mosquitoes.
One mosquito can lay 200 to 300 eggs, said Scott Dudzik of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. He advises people to turn over buckets, punch holes in tires or get pellets designed to kill mosquitoes in standing water, such as horse troughs or rain water catch basins.
In the meantime, Foster continues to set traps waiting for the first positive mosquito pool to show up in Lawrence County.
The traps are a simple piece of netting connected to a device that releases carbon dioxide -- a substance all humans release naturally and attracts the mosquitoes -- and a fan that pulls mosquitoes into the netting.
Dudzik said there are more than 60 species of mosquitoes and about 40 are known carriers of the West Nile virus.
If mosquitoes carrying the virus are found here, officials say they will likely start a mosquito spraying program.