Warren County is officially a blue county, if you're discussing viruses and not voting.
According to the Pennsylvania West Nile Virus Control Program's 2012 status map, which marks counties which have registered a positive test result in red, Warren County is blue, denoting a virus-free status.
It is, however, the open space in the center of a red C-shaped crescent. Positive results for West Nile virus testing have been registered in Forest, Venango, Crawford and Erie counties as well as in Chautauqua County, New York.
Map courtesy of the PA Department of Environmental Protection
Red areas indicate counties where a positive test for West Nile virus has been recorded. Blue areas indicate counties, including Warren County, that are still considered “West Nile Free.” All 40 monitored counties are shown in red while seven counties without monitoring are also in red. None of the map’s blue areas are monitored.
Warren County is effectively surrounded by positive test results.
"The reason that there are no positives recorded in Warren County is because DEP does not survey Warren County for the virus," Amanda Whitman, communications officer with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), told the Times Observer last month.
Whitman said Crawford and Venango counties are actively monitored by the DEP and Erie and Lawrence counties run DEP-funded testing programs.
Whitman's explanation of Warren County's lack of positive tests extends to the handful of West Nile-free counties bordering it also. The Pennsylvania program website doesn't list any testing for McKean and Elk counties.
The New York State Department of Health's map of West Nile activity shows Cattaragus County as being free of the virus, but it doesn't test there.
Forest County isn't actively tested, but the Pennsylvania website lists positive sample results there. Samples, according to Whitman, are taken in counties not actively monitored when DEP sets mosquito traps in response to dead bird complaints.
In fact, the 20 Pennsylvania counties still indicated as being a virus-free blue on the West Nile map have one glaring similarity. None of them are actively tested.
There are, however, seven counties not actively tested where the virus has been found. Forest County falls into that group.
"There are limited funds available for the West Nile program, so every year DEP conducts a risk-assessment to determine which counties are most in need," according to Whitman. "When program funding was cut, county programs had to be eliminated. The assessment that decided what programs were eliminated was based on population and amount of positive tests up until that point. DEP will trap the area if a human or horse tests positive for a mosquito-borne disease. The department does not have the manpower/equipment to provide anything else."
All 40 counties in Pennsylvania with an active monitoring program have reported positive sample tests.
A map of West Nile "hot spots" lists 35 actively monitored counties as "high risk", one as "above average risk" and three as "moderate risk". Of the seven counties without active monitoring that reported positive tests, none are on the "hot spots" map.
Crawford and Erie counties are listed as "high risk".
According to a DEP press release, mosquito spraying is scheduled in Randolph Township, Crawford County, on Aug. 21.
This year marks the first time since 2006 that Chautauqua County has recorded a positive West Nile test. Meanwhile, Erie County's positive tests confirming infection of eight bird and 26 mosquito pools put it on track to match 2002 levels when the county reported four positive human cases of the disease.
Five cases of West Nile Virus infections in humans have been reported in Pennsylvania this year. The nearest in Centre County.
According to Holli Senior, deputy press secretary with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, only one in 150 people who contract West Nile virus will develop serious symptoms. Approximately 80 percent of those infected will not develop serious symptoms and approximately 20 percent will not experience any effects.
The virus generally exhibits flu-like effects, according to the state West Nile Program website, but can cause encephalitis, which may result in brain inflammation.
"The difficulty with West Nile Virus is it's not necessarily easy to detect as far as symptoms go," Senior said. "If anybody has suspicions or is experiencing feelings that something is not right, they need to contact their primary physician. The main thing we want to point out is if you are experiencing a fever as well as a headache."
To report dead birds or excessive mosquito populations visit www.westnile.state.pa.us and visit either the "mosquito complaints" or "bird reporting" links on the right hand side of the screen. Maps of current west nile activity in the state are also available at the site.