West Nile Season Is Almost Here; Vigilance The Best Repellent
Los Angeles has the highest number of West Nile virus-positive dead birds so far this year, compared to other California counties with 26 of the 69 positive birds found within the county.
It is important to note that none of the birds have been found in the Santa Clarita Valley, but that doesn’t mean that residents should be any less vigilant.
“West Nile Virus is endemic, which means it’s here to stay,” said Crystal Brown, Public Information Officer for the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District. “It’s been here since 2003 and is never going to change, although some areas may see higher virus activity than others.”
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There are several mosquito samples collected throughout the county and seven locations host sentinel chickens that have their blood tested for the virus. No infected chickens or mosquitoes have been found in the area this year.
“Activity usually picks up in August, which means we could see more activity then, but there’s no guarantee,” Brown added.
West Nile is spread by mosquitoes that have fed on infected birds which become debilitated by the disease and are unable to fly a few days before they die.
“Statistically, there is a higher likelihood of West Nile virus positive mosquitoes being found in areas surrounding West Nile virus positive dead birds,” Brown said. “There is no way to confirm exactly where a bird was infected because it can travel long distances.”
Brown said that the best prevention against West Nile virus is eliminating mosquito breeding grounds and preventing mosquito bites. Mosquitoes are most active between dusk and dawn. Those outdoors during this time should wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and long pants, as well as applying insect repellents that include ingredients such as DEET, Picaridin or lemon eucalyptus oil. Properly-fitting screens, free from tears, on windows and doors around the home will also keep mosquitoes out.
With the close proximity of communities in Southern California, Brown said that County residents should be conscious of the measures they can take to prevent the virus, which can cause a mild disease, generally called West Nile fever.
West Nile virus can cause some or all of the following symptoms: abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, headache, lack of appetite, muscle aches, nausea, rash, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes and vomiting. Symptoms may last from three to six days.
More severe forms of disease, which can be life-threatening, may be called West Nile encephalitis or West Nile meningitis, depending on what part of the body is affected. The following symptoms can occur, and need prompt attention: confusion or change in ability to think clearly; loss of consciousness or coma, muscle weakness, stiff neck and weakness of one arm or leg.
Complications of West Nile are rare, but can include brain damage, permanent muscle weakness or death.
“There are so many breeding sources of mosquitoes in urban areas, the best thing people can do is be vigilant and eliminate standing water sources,” Brown said. “A single cup of water can result in hundreds of mosquitoes and with 1,300 square miles in the county, that’s a lot of ground to cover. We need the public to report any possible breeding sources, including pools and water sources around foreclosed homes.”
The County offers the following tips on eliminating standing water sources:
Inspect front and back yards. Eliminate standing water in clogged rain gutters, rain barrels, discarded tires, buckets, watering troughs or anything that holds water for more than a week to break the mosquito life cycle.
Ensure that swimming pools, spas and ponds are properly maintained.
Change the water in pet dishes and birdbaths weekly.
Request free mosquitofish from CLACVCD for placement in out-of-order swimming pools, spas and ponds to control mosquitoes.
Report any mosquito activity near vacant or foreclosed homes and abandoned swimming pools in the neighborhood.
For more information, call (562) 944-9656 or visit www.glacvcd.org. For statewide information and statistics about West Nile virus or to report a dead bird or squirrel, visit www.westnile.ca.gov or call 1-877-WNV-BIRD.