By DAN GUZEWICH Staff writer

Consistent warmer weather has returned locally and with it comes the threat of mosquito-borne illnesses caused by West Nile and Eastern Equine Encephalitis viruses.

Like in past years, the Oneida County Health Department is seeking to stay on top of the situation through its mosquito surveillance program. About 10 mosquito traps have been strategically placed in communities, according to the department’s Bobbi Jo Kahl.

Samples are collected periodically and then sent to the state’s Wadsworth Center to be tested for the presence of EEE or West Nile. Human cases are uncommon. EEE can cause a serious infection or even death. West Nile symptoms can include flu-like symptoms, paralysis or even death.

Representatives from the state Department of Health and Oneida and Madison counties recently joined Oswego County staff in annual training sessions at Toad Harbor Swamp in Oswego County. This site is a long-time surveillance location known to periodically harbor the EEE virus.

Participants learned about how mosquitoes are trapped, tracked and tested for diseases such as EEE and West Nile Virus.

Oswego County has stepped up its efforts to combat EEE following the death last year of 4-year-old Maggie Sue Glenister Wilcox of New Haven. She died in August after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

Oneida county is about to add a component to its mosquito surveillance program.

Besides the usual gathering of mosquito samples, the department will be taking a role in Oswego County’s new mark-release-recapture program. Oswego County expects to start capturing mosquitoes in the Toad Harbor/Big Bay swamp area, marking them with a fluorescent powder and then releasing them. The intent is to learn more about the mosquitoes’ dispersal patterns, based on where the marked insects are found.

Oneida, Madison and Onondaga counties will use a blacklight to check mosquitoes caught in their traps for the presence of any of the critters previously marked in Toad Harbor/Big Bay, a prime haven for mosquitoes.

Oneida County has not received any equipment yet to take part in the mark-and-release program, so Kahl doesn’t know when the county will be able to start monitoring the origin of captured mosquitoes. Oswego County expects to have the program up and running before the end of the month.

"The project is important because it will give us more precise information about when, where and how quickly mosquitoes travel as they migrate from the Toad Harbor/Big Bay swamp area," said Dennis Norfleet, Oswego County public health director. "Understanding this information about mosquito movement will help us in our decision-making about the timing of mosquito control activities, such as aerial spraying."

The best defense against the virus is to guard against mosquito bites, says the Oneida County Health Department. It recommends such precautions as:

¿ Using insect repellent on exposed skin or clothing.

¿ Wearing long sleeves and pants outdoors when weather permits.

¿ Having secure, intact screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out.

¿ Eliminating mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from flower pots, buckets, barrels, and other containers. Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out. Keep children’s wading pools empty and on their sides when they aren’t being used.