”Even though no clinical cases have been diagnosed as originating in Humboldt County so far, increased testing and monitoring convinces me that we will see cases of West Nile virus in the next few years,” Baird said.
Baird advises residents to follow standard safety procedures, especially when they are traveling to areas where West Nile virus (WNV) is more prevalent.
One of the best ways to avoid WNV is to prevent mosquito bites, according to the CDC. The CDC encourages people to use insect repellent when they go outdoors, wear long sleeves and pants at dawn and dusk, install or repair screens on windows and doors and empty standing water where mosquitoes can breed. This includes gutters, flowerpots, buckets, children’s pools and birdbaths.
”It’s important to take precautions and do what we can to prevent getting bitten by mosquitoes. They are not only a nuisance, but can also transmit diseases including West Nile and malaria,” said Susan Buckley, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) public health director.
Most people with WNV contracted it from an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds, according to the CDC. Experts believe WNV is a seasonal epidemic in North America that starts in late spring and continues through to early fall.
As of Aug. 21, the CDC has recorded 1,118 people infected by the virus, with 41 deaths to date. This represents the highest numbers of West Nile virus cases reported to CDC through the third week in August since the disease was first detected in the United States in 1999.
”People around the country are understandably very concerned about the outbreak, especially in hard-hit areas like Texas, where almost half of the cases have been reported,” said Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC’s Division of Vector-borne Infectious Diseases, during an Aug. 22 press briefing. “The unusually mild winter, early spring and hot summer in many parts of the country might have fostered conditions favorable to the spread of West Nile virus to people.”
This year, 15 counties in California have reported human cases of WNV, according to the California West Nile Virus website (www.westnile.ca.gov), which is supported in part by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). Twenty-nine counties have reported WNV in dead birds and 28 counties have reported virus activity in mosquitoes. Shasta is the closest county to Humboldt affected by WNV, with three dead birds and five mosquito samples testing positive for the virus.
Most people who are bitten by an infected mosquito will not get sick, according to the CDC. Though the risk of WNV causing serious illness in humans is low, a few individuals do develop serious neurologic illness. There have been two WNV-related deaths reported in California to date, one in Kern County and a second in Fresno County, according to the California West Nile Virus website.
DHHS’ Division of Environmental Health has prepared a countywide West Nile Virus response plan. Program activities include educational public outreach, surveillance of mosquito species and populations in the county and assistance to the state dead bird surveillance program. Residents are encouraged to contact the Division of Environmental Health at (707) 445-6215 when high concentrations of mosquitoes or manmade/artificial breeding sources are encountered.
To report dead birds or dead tree squirrels, call the California West Nile Virus Surveillance Program hotline at 1-877-968-2473. According to the CDPH, dead bird or tree squirrel reports are important because dead birds or tree squirrels can be the first indication of WNV in an area.