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Two pools of mosquitoes infected with West Nile virus have been found in Amherst, the first sign of the disease this year in the region, Erie County public health officials reported Friday.

The positive samples were found July 17 and 18.

“With this discovery, it’s more important than ever to get the message out about protecting ourselves and our loved ones from mosquito bites,” said Dr. Gale Burstein, county health commissioner.

So far this year, no one has become ill from West Nile virus in New York State. But the disease has been detected in mosquitoes in nine upstate counties and three New York City boroughs. There were 12 cases in people last year in Erie County, including one death.

West Nile virus is usually spread by infected mosquitoes. Less than 1 percent of people infected with the virus develop such serious neurologic illnesses as encephalitis or meningitis. Milder flulike symptoms occur in up to 20 percent of the people who become infected.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this year has reported 31 cases in humans in 14 states, including three deaths.

The nation last year experienced one of the worst outbreaks ever of West Nile virus, with 5,674 cases of the disease in people, including 286 deaths. That was the highest number of human cases of the virus reported to the CDC since 2003. The virus was first detected in the United States in 1999.

“It was unseasonably warm last summer,” said Burstein, citing one of the key reasons for the 2012 uptick in cases. “This year we’re seeing a lot less.”

One of the primary ways public health officials determine the presence of the virus is by testing mosquitoes to see if they carry it. The samples came from specially designed traps maintained by the Town of Amherst. Erie County eliminated its role in mosquito surveillance several years ago as part of budget cuts.

“But if they’re in Amherst, they’re probably everywhere,” Burstein said. “Mosquitoes don’t know borders.”

To prevent spread of the disease, public health officials recommend that people use insect repellent, wear long sleeves and pants, and eliminate standing water in places that can serve as a mosquito breeding ground.

Burstein recommended that adults use an insect repellent containing 30 percent to 50 percent DEET, and children older than 2 months old use a repellant with 10 percent to 30 percent DEET. The CDC also recommends repellents containing picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products.

“When people are outside, they should use common sense and stay away from the environments mosquitoes thrive in – stagnant, standing water, tall grass and shrubbery,” she said.

Data on West Nile surveillance is available at www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/index.htm and www.health.ny.gov/diseases/west_nile_virus.

email: hdavis@buffnews.com