The chance that a human will get West Nile Virus is low, a health department official said.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
BERLIN CENTER -- On clear summer days, 3-year-old Walter Welsh likes to take his tiny blue bicycle outside to pop wheelies.
Lately, he's been doing his tricks on a window-enclosed back porch.
His mother, Peggy Welsh, is scared. She's afraid that outdoor play could expose her son to the West Nile Virus.
She has found about seven dead birds, mostly sparrows, in the past couple weeks on the three-acre lot on Western Reserve Road.
Though the birds have not been tested, Welsh and her husband, Monty, fear that they may be infected with the virus. Clouds of mosquitoes hover around their yard, they say, lingering due to sewage runoff that pools along the rear property line.
"It's a shame. I can't really let my kids play," Mrs. Welsh said. "We bought the house because we thought this was a safe community."
The couple complained that county officials are not addressing their concerns. But a county health investigator has visited about six times per month since March, said Christine Frankford, chief of waste control programs at the Mahoning County District Board of Health.
"We've been working with them for quite some time," Frankford said. "We're making progress on it. It just takes time."
A problem fixed
An investigator has placed fluorescent dye in water sources of homes in the area and watched to see if the dye turned up in the backyard sewage.
An illegal overflow was found coming from one of the homes, and the homeowner was required to hire a contractor to dig up the yard and patch the offending septic system line. Berlin Township Trustee James R. Brown, who did the contract work, said the repair was made about two weeks ago.
That didn't stop the problem, Frankford said, so investigators are still searching.
As for the West Nile Virus, Frankford said the department has established that the virus is in the bird population. As such, they no longer collect and test dead birds.
Richard Setty, director of Environmental Health, said birds are tested at county residents' resquests. Five infected birds were found last year and four so far this year. They were in Austintown, Beaver, Boardman, Canfield, Green and Poland townships.
While they were all found in the eastern half of the county, there is no specific pattern or clustering of the cases.
Setty said West Nile infected birds also have been reported in 56 other Ohio counties.
Frankford said the threat of a person getting the virus is small because the type of mosquito that spreads the disease prefers to feeds on birds over people.
Still, Setty said, it is possible that such a mosquito will bite a human. But the mosquito often does not carry enough of the virus to cause illness in a human.
The health department does not spray for mosquitoes because of cost. They did start trapping mosquitoes two years ago and sending them for testing. Last week, the department trapped mosquitoes on the Welsh property.
In the past two years, locally trapped mosquitoes have tested negative for the virus; however, no reports have yet come back on any mosquitoes trapped this year.
What's being done
Berlin Township Trustee Ivan Hoyle said the township has received no other complaints of dead birds in the area. Hoyle said he is confident that the health department is working hard to get to the bottom of the sewage problem.
Mrs. Welsh said she and her family moved to the area from Sebring so her kids would have room to play and enjoy a country atmosphere, with a swimming pond and other outdoor activities. Besides Walter, the couple has 16-year-old son, George, and 11-year-old daughter, Nikki.
The sewage and mosquito problem has turned them all indoors.
Mrs. Welsh hasn't been weeding her garden out of fear of the mosquitoes. She and her kids don't play Frisbee. They no longer swim in their pond in the evening hours or sit in their outdoor hot tub.
Her husband said he bought four-wheelers to ride with his children but the off-road vehicles sit idle because the family fears the virus.
"Our kids are scared that they're going to die from a mosquito bite," he said.