Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
This summer, the potentially deadly West Nile Virus struck hard in Pennsylvania. Just outside the Swarthmore bubble, three cases of the mosquito-borne virus were reported in Delaware County. The statewide total jumped to 22 cases from just six last year and includes one death, out of 147 nationwide.
The state’s West Nile Virus Control Program has designated Delaware County as a “high risk” zone. Delaware County’s three human cases of West Nile is second only to Lancaster County’s five. Among mosquitoes and birds, 224 in Delaware County have tested positive for the virus.
Delaware County Intercommunity Health Coordination is undertaking a mosquito surveillance and control program, with aid from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Some preventative measures are treating stagnant water and actively spraying against mosquitoes.
Swarthmore has not been participating in any mosquito-spraying programs carried out by the DEP. No other specific prevention methods against the West Nile Virus have been carried out, according to Jeff Jabco, Director of Grounds and Coordinator of Horticulture at the Scott Arboretum. This is not without reason. Luckily for Swarthmore students, the virus mainly affects infants and those over 50 years old.
“That is not to say that we aren’t suspicious when students present symptoms,” said Director of Student Health Services Beth Kotarski, “but from a public health standpoint, there are more immediate threats to our students’ health that tend to be overlooked when other viruses make news headlines.”
No vaccine exists for the virus, although most infected will recover. According to the Center for Disease Control, 20% of those infected will develop the West Nile fever, but only one in 150 will develop a serious form of the disease. The virus’ symptoms are sometimes “neuroinvasive,” or brain-related, and, at its worst, the virus causes encephalitis, a brain inflammation, and meningitis, which is an inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord.
Delaware County asks residents to report instances of dead birds, which may indicate the presence of the West Nile Virus, but it’s likely that the outbreak will be over soon. The West Nile Virus usually spreads in the summer, with the threat fading by October. A Delaware County announcement states that, “the first frost of the year will kill off the mosquito population.”