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GIS maps help residents track West Nile virus reports

Website's maps will pinpoint places where virus is found, spray locations

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Columbus Public Health is using the latest technology to combat mosquitoes and the spread of the West Nile virus.

The health agency has launched three new GIS maps at publichealth.columbus.org that will provide information just as central Ohio enters the time for the greatest risk, from July to mid-September.

One map shows mosquito counts and traps in individual neighborhoods, another discloses where the disease has been found in mosquitoes and a third gives information on spraying locations.

"It's one of the many tools we use to help protect our residents," said Jose Rodriguez, spokesman for CPH.

Although no cases of West Nile had been reported as of July 3, Columbus started spraying for mosquitoes last week, targeting 41 parks throughout the city and the greater Downtown area. Rodriguez said those sites were chosen because they would see the most activity from July 4 celebrations.

Additionally, 81 permanent locations have been added throughout Columbus and Worthington to trap and test mosquitoes for West Nile.

The city will factor in the same criteria in deploying its spray trucks: mosquito trap results, reports from field staff, the number and type of trapped mosquitoes, the number of infected mosquitoes and evidence of human disease.

"All of these factors have already been the determining factors of where we spray," he said. "The only thing we're doing differently is using GIS mapping because (residents) want to know what the mosquito counts are. So this year, we'll be using some new tools."

City workers try to spray areas between 4 and 6 a.m. because those are times of low traffic and disturb the fewest number of residents, he said.

Residents also are being asked to do their part by getting rid of standing water in areas such as gutters, discarded tires, buckets and uncovered trash receptacles.

"Anything, really, in your backyard that can hold water can be a place for (mosquito) breeding," Rodriguez said.

"It's amazing -- a little cap of water you leave on a table can hold water and become a breeding source."

Wherever there are reports of standing water, health officials make on-site visits to treat the water.

More local residents are hooking up rain barrels to their downspouts, using the collected rain to water plants. While that can be beneficial, the barrels also can provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes. So, CPH recommends that residents treat the barrels with anti-mosquito pellets, which are available at most hardware stores and are safe for plants, Rodriguez said.

In 2012, the Ohio Department of Health reported 114 human cases of West Nile virus, six of which were fatal. In 2013, there were 23 cases of the virus, three of which were fatal.

Rodriguez said the disparity is the result of the drought in 2012. Standing water became more stagnant, making it easier for mosquitoes to breed, he said.

People can also protect themselves from mosquito bites by wearing insect repellent with DEET, staying indoors or wearing long sleeves and pants during early morning and late evening hours, and checking and repairing window screens.

"During dusk and dawn, that's when it's best to stay inside because that's when mosquitoes are most active," Rodriguez said.

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