County has ‘100 percent’ increase in West Nile virus

At least 111 out of 300 pools test positive, but no cases have been reported in Union County’s human population

By Paul Greulich, Staff Writer

A higher-than-normal presence ofWest Nilevirus kept county and local health officials busy this summer, and residents are not quite out of mosquito country yet.

While no confirmed cases of the virus in humans or birds have been identified inUnionCounty, there were a record number of pools that were found to contain traces of the virus.

State and county reported last week that of more than 300 pools tested for the virus, 111 came back positive.

“We’ve never had that many pools test positive inUnionCounty,” Union County Director of the Mosquito Control Bureau Ralph Strano said. “It’s a 100 percent increase.”

The virus was identified in pools in all municipalities with the exception ofBerkeleyHeights.Rahwayhad the highest concentration of these contaminated pools with ten, followed byLindenwith seven andScotch Plainswith five. Results were still pending for more pools, Strano said.

“It has been a higher than normal mosquito year based on what the County Mosquito Bureau has reported,” said President of the Union County Health Officers Association Warren Hehl.

Hehl explained this was likely caused by the mild winter, followed by an early spring.

“Everyone liked the mild winter, but it caused a problem with mosquitoes earlier in the year,” Hehl said.

According to the New Jersey Department of Health, there have been no confirmed cases of West Nile Virus amongUnionCountyresidents.

While there have been no confirmed cases of the virus in Union County, there have been three confirmed cases in Essex County and one in Middlesex, both of which border Union. One confirmed West Nile-related fatality has been reported, occurring inBurlingtonCounty.

Westfield Health Officer Megan Avallone, who serves severalUnionCountymunicipalities includingSpringfield, has been advising local Boards of Health on the situation.

Avallone explained the increase in cases is probably also due in part to an increased awareness of the virus.

“Doctors are testing for West Nile Virus more and more often,” Avallone said. “The more doctors who look for the virus, the more who will find it, and the rates will go up.”

The County Mosquito Control Bureau has stepped up its operations to control the mosquito population this summer, adding more trucks for insecticide spraying. The county uses both adulticide and larvicide, which are insecticides that specifically target insects in different life stages. They have also employed barrier treatments and thermal fogging.

“We spray on an as-needed basis. Wherever there are issues, we are spraying,” County spokesman Sebastian D’Elia said.

Strano said testing generally moves from South to North.

“We try to start with the lower, southern part of the county and work our way across,” he said.

There are also many steps that residents can take by themselves to reduce the presence of mosquitoes and the risk ofWest Nilevirus.

Hehl said when property inspections are done, his inspectors always note potential mosquito breeding areas. These can include pockets of moisture, like pools, flower pots, and buckets. Residents themselves also need to be aware of this as they maintain their property.

“People need to walk around their property and think about addressing some of the areas that might be potential breeding areas,”Hehl said.

Avallone said avoiding mosquitoes themselves is the simplest way to avoid coming into contact with the virus.

“The best thing you can do is avoid going outside at dusk and use mosquito repellent,” Avallone said.

Avallone said about 80 percent of people infected show no symptoms. Others may develop cold or flu-like symptoms ranging from fever and fatigue to gastrointestinal symptoms. More characteristic features include back or limb pain.

“A lot of times they don’t have a lot of symptoms, the same as with Lyme Disease,” said Hehl.

Only a very small percentage of people infected develop the neurological problems with which theWest Nilevirus is commonly associated.

According to the New Jersey Department of Health, late summer and early fall are typically the most critical times of the year to be aware of the potential for the danger of contractingWest Nilevirus from mosquito bites. Health officials expect these risks to subside as cold weather begins to set in, however mosquito activity has been known to continue as long as late October.

Paul Greulich can be reached at 908-686-7700 ext. 121, or at [email protected].