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Year’s first case of West Nile virus in Stanislaus County

POSTED June 27, 2009 4:18 p.m.
A dead American crow, found in Modesto, has tested positive for the mosquito-borne West Nile virus.
According to the East Side Mosquito Abatement District, which manages mosquito control for Stanislaus County communities north of the Tuolumne River, this is the county’s first confirmed case of West Nile virus this year.
“It shows that there’s virus activity beginning in the area, or at least we’re starting to detect it now,” said Jerry Davis, Turlock Mosquito Abatement District manager. “We’re continuing to do the same things we have done, but if people see mosquitoes they need to give us a call.”
California Department of Public Health statistics show that 13 California counties have detected West Nile virus in 2009, though no Californians have contracted the disease thus far.
Four out of five people who are infected with West Nile virus display no symptoms whatsoever, but for others the disease can be deadly. According to the Center for Disease Control, approximately 20 percent of people infected with West Nile virus will develop West Nile fever, which manifests as fever, headache, tiredness, swollen lymph glands, and occasional skin rash.
An even smaller number of people — 1 in 150 of those infected with West Nile virus — contract severe West Nile disease, which can lead to headaches, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, and paralysis.
Mosquitoes transmit West Nile virus, but birds serve as amplifying hosts for the disease. Avian physiology allows the disease to overrun the birds, easily infecting mosquitoes that bite the animals and creating a danger to humans.
A total of 38 dead birds from 10 California counties have tested positive for West Nile virus in 2009. Additionally, 56 mosquito samples, three sentinel chickens, and one squirrel have confirmed the presence of West Nile virus in California.
“(West Nile virus is) endemic to the area now, the question is just when it begins,” Davis said.
According to Davis, the TMAD goes into a preventative mode prior to the start of mosquito season each year, searching for and spraying expected mosquito breeding grounds and picking up dead birds to track the spread of the disease.
TMAD has already checked over 900 Turlock swimming pools suspected of breeding mosquitoes, and more than one-third of those pools came back positive for the pests. Additionally, the District has been spot spraying on the east side of Turlock in response to higher than expected mosquito counts.
Davis said that continued prevention of West Nile virus is reliant upon Turlockers calling in to notify the District if they see a large mosquito population or dead birds in their neighborhoods. Additionally, Davis advised remaining inside when mosquitoes are most active — dawn and dusk — and wearing insect repellent.
While mosquito countermeasures may seem onerous, they are likely to become a way of life as Stanislaus County residents will continue to battle the West Nile virus for years to come.
“Unless the birds build up a natural resistance to the virus that infects them, it’s probably here to stay,” Davis said.
To report a dead bird, which can be a potential carrier of West Nile virus, call the Dead Bird Hotline at 1 (877) 968-2473.
For help with mosquito problems, or to receive free mosquito fish to combat infestation in ponds or troughs, call TMAD at 634-1234.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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