An 83-year-old Stockton woman is the first Central Valley victim of 2013 in what has became a vicious back-and-forth battle with mosquitoes that carry the West Nile Virus.
On Thursday San Joaquin County Health Public Officials announced that the woman, a Stockton resident, had succumbed to the virus. This is the fourth West-Nile related fatality reported in California this year. The other victims were from Sacramento, Glenn and Los Angeles.
County health officials were caught off-guard last month when a blood test from a donor tested positive for the virus. He was asymptomatic, but the situation revealed that West Nile was alive and well in San Joaquin County.
So they went to work.
Attack plans, counterattack plans, brainstorming sessions that include aerial maps - we're talking not about ground troop movements, but a battle against a nearly microscopic flying bug that can almost completely be neutralized with a simple spray of some chemicals.
But it's what they carry - West Nile, Malaria, and Dengue Fever - that have the experts worried.
While the risk of death from infection is low, primarily leaving young children and seniors susceptible, there is still that chance on those that leave themselves unprotected when outdoors during the hours that mosquitoes feed.
Additional information about the victim was not made available.
"We want to remind the public that although the risk of death from West Nile Virus is low, this unfortunate death reminds us that we need to protect ourselves from mosquito bites to prevent infection," said County Health Officer Dr. Karen Furst.
Work at the San Joaquin County Mosquito and Vector Control District, however, will go on - ground spraying in areas where mosquitoes are known to congregate is underway throughout the county, and efforts to capture and test groups to determine where the virus is concentrated is also being undertaken.
But their effort is fruitless without the help of the public - we're talking hundreds of millions or more against a barebones staff.
According to district spokesman Aaron Devencenci, residents can do their part by making sure that they don't have any standing water around their house. That means emptying buckets and turning over tires and making sure nothing is pooling up in the garden.
Those with ornamental gardens or pool covers or other bodies of water that can't be drained, he said, can come and get mosquito fish that will help play a part in the cycle that eliminates the flying pests.
Taking the proper steps to protect yourself, he said, is also always encouraged.
"We need people to make sure that they eliminate the places where mosquitoes can breed. They also need to do things like wear long pants and sleeves if they're going to be outside at dusk or dawn - that's when mosquitoes are most active," Devencenci said. "And if somebody notices a lot of mosquitoes in one particular place, they need to call us. A few mosquitoes are okay, but if there are a lot of them and they're in place, we need to come out and do what we can to eradicate them."
One of the markers of West Nile Virus activity, aside from the capture and testing of actual mosquitoes, is a State program that tests dead birds that are reported by residents. While some animals are immune, birds, tree squirrels and horses are all susceptible, and the smaller animals die rather quickly - giving an early indication that the virus has arrived.
The Department of Public Health Services recommends using the four "D"'s to keep yourself protected during the height of mosquito season. Those are:
• DEET - Applying bug spray with the active ingredient DEET - often mixed with lemon oil, eucalyptus, picaridin or IR 3535 - has been proven to keep mosquitoes from biting you. It should be applied on exposed skin.
• Dawn and Dusk - This is when mosquitoes are most active and are seeking a blood meal. Repellant should be applied during these hours, and doors and windows of homes should be outfitted with tight-fitting screens to prevent flying bugs like mosquitoes from getting inside.
• Dress - Wear clothes that cut down on the amount of exposed skin and make it harder for the mosquitoes to bite.
• Drain - Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, and not very much is needed for them to complete this process. Anything on the side of your house that has even a few inches of water can serve as a mosquito incubator. Use mosquito fish if you can't drain standing water for any reason.
California's West Nile website is www.westnile.ca.gov/ and up-to-date information about where the virus has been discovered and where additional activity is taking place can be found there. Residents are encouraged to report all dead birds and tree squirrels by calling 1 (800) 968-2473 (WNV-BIRD).