CLEARFIELD – On Tuesday the Clearfield County Commissioners heard a presentation on the local Mosquito-borne Disease Control program that was given by Matt Milliron, Centre County’s senior planner.
In 2000, the Pennsylvania departments of Health, Environmental Protection and Agriculture developed a comprehensive surveillance program to combat the spread of mosquito-borne disease and the West Nile Virus (WNV).
The WNV is an organism that lives and thrives in the bird pool and primarily on crows, ravens, jays, owls, eagles and hawks. “Mosquitoes are the bridge from the bird pool to humans or other animals,” Milliron said.
He said back then, the scope of work was simply to track the spread or extent of the disease in the commonwealth. But as the disease spread state- and nation-wide, its focus evolved to reduce the occurrence or exposure of WNV to humans.
The programs in Centre and Clearfield counties were operated out of their Penn State Cooperative Extension offices. According to Milliron, the commonwealth funded these WNV programs 100 percent and originally there was a program in every county.
But he said when the financial crisis struck in 2008-09, state-wide program funding was cut significantly. Today he said only about 23 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties continue to receive funding to maintain a program.
Locally, Milliron said programs in Centre and Blair counties were maintained by DEP due to their population levels. He said the program continued to evolve in the years to follow with DEP’s direction to concentrate resources (traps) in the heaviest populated areas.
In May of 2016, DEP and DOH announced a program to combat the ZIKA Virus, another vector-borne disease spread by two very specific species of mosquitoes. Under the program, he said DEP started enhanced surveillance of the two mosquito species.
Milliron noted that neither mosquito has been identified in central Pennsylvania, but there has been “limited evidence” they may be present in the southeastern part of the commonwealth. With the onset of the ZIKA Virus, DEP renamed the program to Mosquito-borne Disease Control Program, or MDC.
He said since the program’s inception, the programs in Centre and Clearfield Counties have worked very closely in the Moshannon Valley. He said they’ve shared staff, equipment, a storage facility, etc., and protected residents of the six municipalities in that area.
He said when DEP cut Clearfield County’s program in 2008, Centre County continued to provide limited services in the southeast corner, which abuts Philipsburg Borough and Rush Township, including the municipalities of Decatur and Morris Townships and Chester Hill Borough.
“They were identified as areas in our plan to monitor in order to control mosquito populations affecting Philipsburg Borough and Rush Township,” Milliron said. He said up through 2016, these services to Clearfield County were partially funded with old funds left from the now defunct Moshannon Valley Vector Control Authority.
After these funds were expended, he said Centre County’s activities in these three Clearfield County municipalities decreased to the minimal amount that was necessary to monitor mosquitoes that could impact Centre County residents.
However, Milliron said that last winter DEP decided to increase mosquito monitoring activity in Clearfield and Clinton counties by increasing the capacity of Centre County’s program. This, he said, required a second technician to be hired, with two staffers to split their time among the three counties.
He reiterated that DEP is still directing focus to heavily populated communities, with the secondary focus to be on outlying areas. This, he said, doesn’t mean there isn’t any response in the smaller communities, but that it’s just done as time permits.
Another new component, Milliron said, is that DEP is monitoring ticks this year. He said staff members collect ticks, which are sent for testing, and since April, the multi-county program has been checking mosquitoes and larvae in Clearfield, Curwensville, DuBois and Osceola and completing tick surveillance at Parker Dam and Curwensville parks.
He said the program has two primary components – surveillance and control. Surveillance is done through trapping of adults and dipping of larvae; and control is done through treatment of standing water and the limited use of pesticide application. He said surveillance can also be done through limited testing of dead birds, mainly crows, jays and raptors.
Milliron said the program’s staff will monitor various sites throughout the county through early October. He said DEP will remain the primary contact for any questions or concerns, and the contact person is biologist Christian Boyer at 717-346-8221 or email@example.com.