West Nile virus alert in California

The spotlight is on the Solano County Mosquito Abatement District right now as it is in the front line in the local fight against West Nile virus.

Although no humans are known to have become ill from the virus in Solano County, 17 dead birds tested positive for the virus last year, the first year it was detected in Solano. Birds usually get West Nile first. This could very well be the year when the mosquito-borne ailment makes itself felt.

With winter over the threat of West Nile virus returns and already one Solano County bird is known to have died from West Nile virus this year, a dead American crow found near Rio Vista tested positive in February.

Jon Blegen, manager of the Solano County Mosquito Abatement District says this is surprising for so early in the year, but is the reason why they are on the alert and are determined to be prepared.

There is very good reason for caution, if the previous patterns of West Nile virus moving into other areas are to be relied on.

Professor of entomology, Thomas Scott of the University of California, Davis, says the second year is when it is really bad, as the virus colonizes an area in the first year, as migrating birds infected with it get bitten by the mosquitoes that spread it, then comes that hard-hitting second year.

Scott says the virus might diminish in the third year because of bird deaths as there is less chance for the virus to spread as it kills off potential hosts.

People get the virus from mosquito bites, but fortunately, few infected people die. Most show no signs of illness. About 20 percent get flu-like symptoms, and less than 1 percent get severe symptoms, such as high fever, tremors, comas and permanent neurological damage.

Last year, 830 Californians got the virus, none in Solano County, twenty-eight Californians died from the virus.

Scott says the only way to protect humans and wildlife from West Nile virus is to control the mosquitoes, and May and June, are critical months when the virus must be located and the vector population hit early and hard. He says that is the plan most abatement districts favour.

The local abatement district, though it kills mosquitos in the marshes and hills of Solano County, will only eliminate the pest with help from the public. There are thousands of back yards in local cities, and standing water where mosquitos breed, in thousands of back yards in local cities, which must be checked.

Jon Blegen says even if they had an army of technicians there is no way they could tackle all those sources without the help of the people who live in the residences.

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