According to Santa Barbara County’s Public Health department, mosquitoes collected at Lake Los Carneros in the city of Goleta have tested positive for West Nile Virus. This is the first time a mosquito pool has tested positive for West Nile Virus in Santa Barbara County since 2006, and it is the earliest detection ever of West Nile Virus activity in Santa Barbara County.
Most people who contract West Nile Virus don’t experience any signs or symptoms, or very minor symptoms such as fever and mild headache, according to Mayo Clinic. However, some people who have become infected may develop a life-threatening illness including symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, convulsions, and partial paralysis or sudden muscle weakness. Adults over the age of 50 and those who have weakened immune systems are at higher risk. Less than 1 percent of people infected with the virus will develop serious neurologic illnesses such as encephalitis or meningitis.
“Most people with this type of West Nile virus disease recover fully,” said Public Health’s press release. “Recovery from severe disease may take several weeks or months. Some of the neurologic effects may be permanent.”
According to the Santa Barbara Independent, California experienced 801 cases of West Nile Virus last year—the second highest since the virus first entered the state in 2003. Of these cases, 31 were fatal.
The drought may have contributed to the current West Nile Virus activity by creating more limited sources of water for birds and mosquitoes, according to state health officer Dr. Karen Smith.
“The closer you get to the water, the more likely you will get to the mosquitoes,” said Mosquito and Vector Management manager David Chang, according to KEYT. “Depending on the species, they might be hiding out in the shade.”
According to a press release from Public Health, the most effective ways to avoid West Nile Virus are to prevent mosquito bites and to reduce the mosquito breeding habitat. To prevent mosquito bites, avoid outdoor activity when mosquitoes are most active, especially from dusk until dawn; wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outdoors; use mosquito repellent; and ensure that door and window screens are secured and in good repair.
To reduce the mosquito breeding habitat, eliminate standing and stagnant water, and contact the Mosquito and Vector Management District to report mosquito problems or poorly maintained pools and spas.
Birds can also become infected with West Nile Virus, according to the Center for Disease Control. Since 1999, the virus has been detected in over 300 species of dead birds. However, most birds survive after becoming infected. There is no evidence suggesting that a person can get infected from handling infected birds, dead or alive, but it’s still best to avoid bare-handed contact when handling any sort of dead animal.
Citizens can report dead birds to the California Department of Public Health’s toll free West Nile Virus Dead Bird Hotline at 1-877-968-2473 or online at www.westnile.ca.gov, according to the Mosquito and Vector Management District. Local agencies will pick up the dead birds and collect samples, which the University of California, Davis Center for Vector-Borne Diseases will analyze for West Nile Virus.