– South County is at the epicenter of what pest control experts
say will be a long year of battling the West Nile virus in
Absolutely, ground zero should be Central Valley and Northern
Said Ted Toppin, spokesman for the Mosquito and Vector Control
Association of California.
Gilroy – South County is at the epicenter of what pest control experts say will be a long year of battling the West Nile virus in California.
“Absolutely, ground zero should be Central Valley and Northern California,” Said Ted Toppin, spokesman for the Mosquito and Vector Control Association of California. “There are thousands of acres of wetlands, thousands of miles of agriculture ditches. Combine all that standing water with hot weather and it has the potential to be a lot worse than it was last year.”
Last year, the worst of the virus was in southern California, where there were more than 800 confirmed cases in humans and 27 deaths. In San Bernardino County, 12 of every 1,000 residents were infected.
There was only one confirmed case of the virus last year in Santa Clara County, but county pest expert Kriss Costa said Monday that the pattern of the virus over that last five years has been that a small outbreak one season augurs a major one the next.
“History has shown that wherever West Nile virus stopped is where it will kick up the next year,” said Costa, spokeswoman for the vector control district. “It just moved into the area. It has a foothold and now it will take off. People don’t need to panic, but they do need to be aware and concerned.”
West Nile virus, first found in the United States in 1999, is spread by mosquitoes. It is transmitted to humans and animals through the bite of an infected mosquito and cannot be spread from person to person.
Typically, the virus turns up first in birds and chickens. Pest control officials have already confirmed two bird cases of the virus this year, finding one in Willow Glen and another in Morgan Hill. Those cases signal that mosquitoes have begun feeding about a month ahead of schedule, Costa said.
“Mosquitoes usually don’t start feeding until late March or early April,” she said. “What we’re seeing with West Nile as it’s moved east across the United States is that it has shown up a couple of weeks earlier in new locations.”
The weather over the last few days has created prime breeding ground for mosquitoes, who thrive in wet, warm environments. Mike DiMarco, spokesman for the Santa Clara Valley Water District said that county wetlands and other public waterways are sprayed regularly against mosquitoes. The real threat, he said, comes from standing water on private property.
“Just a little water in a tire swing can hatch hundreds of thousands of mosquitoes,” DiMarco said. “The biggest role we can play is to help the average resident understand that a lot of success in avoiding or minimizing West Nile virus is through a good education.”
The water district’s Web site features an electronic brochure with prevention tips in five languages. Residents should take care to dump even the smallest troughs of standing water on their property, wear long-sleeved clothing, place screens in doors and windows, wear mosquito repellent with DEET and try to stay indoors at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.
Costa said that pools and spas need to be treated because chlorine does not kill mosquito larvae and covers turn them into mosquito incubators. For people with backyard ponds, the county provides free mosquito-eating fish.
South County residents said Monday that they’re not surprised that the virus is likely to be more prevalent this year.
“I’m educated about it, but I think in general people are not educated about preventions,” said Brandie Goodrow, who lives in San Martin. “Last year I called vector control to help with drainage in unincorporated areas.”
Goodrow said she’s concerned about the virus because she and her father suffer from an autoimmune disease. When the virus reached South County last year, she turned off the water fall and fountain in her yard, and she urges her neighbors to exercise the same vigilance over their properties.
Morgan Hill resident Patricia Woods said that she’s “overprotective ” of her herself and her animals. Woods follows a yearly spraying regimen and has paved half of her yard to control insects that bother her four dogs and three cats.
“You can’t allow that stuff when you have animals,” she said. “I get a flu shot and take a lot of vitamins.”
Although California has joined the east coast and the south as strong breeding grounds of West Nile, neither the state nor federal government has increased funding to battle the virus.
“Unlike other states, we didn’t receive any additional federal money,” Toppin said. “I think the perception was that we had it handled.”
Of the 73 pest control districts in California, 56, including Santa Clara County, belong to the vector control association. Toppin said that association representatives were in Washington D.C. Monday, lobbying for increased aid and are hoping to get more money from the state. Last year, the first time California confronted a significant West Nile outbreak, the local districts were spared budget cuts, but did not receive additional state money. The pest control budget for the entire state is about $100 million.
“A little will go a long way,” Toppin said. “A lot of people will get sick and have to go to the emergency room. A lot of people may perish. To put that kind of burden on the system is penny wise and pound foolish. This is an emerging epidemic that requires resources to check public health.”
Symptoms of the virus
Are similar to flu symptoms. They include:
• Severe headache • Fever • Fatigue
• If you spot a dead or struggling bird that does not appear to have any injuries call the state hotline at 877-968-2473.
• If you have any questions or are interested in
mosquito-eating fish, call Santa Clara County Vector
Control at 792-5010.