County launches campaign against West Nile virus

GILROY
– South County residents can pick up tips on how they can help
combat the sometimes-deadly West Nile Virus through a new outreach
campaign sponsored by the county and the Santa Clara Valley Water
District.
GILROY – South County residents can pick up tips on how they can help combat the sometimes-deadly West Nile Virus through a new outreach campaign sponsored by the county and the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

The two agencies are teaming up to provide a series of training workshops and educational materials aimed at teaching homeowners, renters, ranchers and livestock owners how to eliminate standing water, the habitat for mosquitos that can carry the virus.

“(Private citizens) can take simple steps to make sure there is no standing water around their homes or places of employment,” said Tim Mulligan, director of the county’s Vector Control District, which is responsible for controlling pests and is the lead agency on the issue. “All it takes is recognizing that abandoned tires, clogged rain gutters, bird baths and other common sources of water offer optimum habitat for mosquitos.”

West Nile is typically spread to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. Symptoms are often mild, including fever, headache and body aches – but in the elderly and immune-compromised, the virus can cause encephalitis and in some cases, death.

While officials say the county’s 300 miles of public waterways and 4,000 acres of wetlands have been under constant surveillance for months to control mosquito habitat, they say there has been no comparable effort among residents and business owners to eliminate standing water.

Outreach partners joining the new campaign to “target the source” include everyone from the Gilroy and Morgan Hill chambers of commerce to the county’s Farm Bureau and Cattlemens’ Association.

Officials held the first in a series of training workshops for public agencies, outdoor groups and homeowners last week at the water district’s San Jose offices to provide background, facts and prevention training for field crews. Similar workshops will be held later this year on a to-be-announced basis.

A Contra Costa County man was diagnosed with a possible case of the virus in September, but public health officials believe he was infected in Chicago. The man was hospitalized with encephalitis but was discharged.

A few days before, a Los Angeles County woman was the first person to be infected with the virus in California. Officials did not know how she became infected, which led to her hospitalization with meningitis.

With the virus’s discovery here, the county moved into the second level of an established response plan that includes outreach, monitoring and prevention efforts.

Technicians check creeks and other active mosquito sources periodically, treat catch basins with a bacterial larvacide and monitor birds that can give early signs of the virus’s presence. Mosquitos are the first priority for response when found or reported.

For questions, concerns or a free brochure, call the county’s West Nile hotline at 800-314-2427 or call the Vector Control District at 792-5010. Reports of dead birds can be made 24 hours a day to a state hotline at 877-WNV-BIRDS. Information is also available on the Internet at www.valleywater.org.

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