By Jennifer Henion
Triplicate staff writer
Mosquitoes are flying in droves as the weather warms and state health officials warn residents to avoid being bitten as the West Nile virus carried by mosquitoes will eventually show up here.
"California has one of the most efficient mosquito species for spreading this disease and we know that species exists in every one of our counties," said Stan Husted, supervising public health biologist for the state.
West Nile virus reactions range from debilitating, fatal or not bothersome at all. Those having serious reactions can have severe headaches from brain swelling, high fever and body aches.
Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, along with insect repellent, is the best way to prevent bites, Husted said. Mosquitoes are most active at dusk, during the night and at dawn.
It's also a good idea to put screens on windows and doors and to eliminate standing water collected over the winter in yards.
Doing only that is not enough to solve the problem, however. Husted said mosquitoes are known to travel 20 miles and mosquitoes get the virus from birds that travel even further.
"So that is a concern from the standpoint of just because someone is taking care of their property, doesn't mean they can't get the virus from miles away," said Husted.
Crows and jays are the bird species that carry the disease and transmit the live virus to mosquitoes. They are the two species that die from West Nile as well.
Chickens do not get sick from the virus because they have natural antibodies that kill it. The virus can still be detected in chickens for the first few days after it is contracted, so the bird is used in a statewide weekly testing program to detect whether the virus has spread to certain areas.
The closest group of test or sentinel chickens to Del Norte is in Shasta county.
Husted said even though Del Norte County has the culprit mosquito species that spreads the disease, cooler temperatures here likely limits the time the virus survives.
There is no vaccine yet developed to prevent the disease in humans. There is a vaccine for horses, however, and Husted recommends all horse owners get their animals inoculated.
So far only one human in California has been diagnosed with the disease in California. Seven other Californians, however, have been diagnosed just after returning home from other states.
So far this spring, human cases have been detected in Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota and Pennsylvania and Toronto, Canada.
About 4,000 human cases have been documented in the nation as a whole since 1999 when it first appeared in New York.
Del Norte and Colusa counties were the only two in California that did not have citizens report dead birds to the state health department last year.
Husted said since there is no nearby sentinel chicken station to detect the virus, citizens here should look out for dead crows or jays and contact the local or state health departments.
"That is really, really important," he said.
"We will ask them about the bird to see if it's the right species and to see how long it has been dead," he added.
If citizens do see a dead bird, call the toll free number 1-877-968-2473 (or 1-877-WNV-BIRD).
After determining if the bird should be looked at, the Del Norte County Environmental Health Department will be alerted to get the bird and send it to the state lab at University of California Davis.
It takes about one week to determine if the bird is infected. Husted said from the time an infected dead bird is found, it takes about two to six weeks for humans to start contracting the virus.
For more information about West Nile virus and its spread across the nation, visit the state's Web site www.westnile.ca.gov.