West Nile Virus ‘epicenter’

By Melissa Flores
Gilroy
– Santa Clara County is poised to be a hotbed for West Nile
Virus as the weather heats up and the first equine case has been
reported one month earlier than any case in 2004, according to
experts.
By Melissa Flores

Gilroy – Santa Clara County is poised to be a hotbed for West Nile Virus as the weather heats up and the first equine case has been reported one month earlier than any case in 2004, according to experts.

While the quarter horse, which tested positive for the virus Wednesday, is 300 miles northeast of Gilroy, in Plumas County, it is a glimpse of things to come for South County residents.

Santa Clara County health officials reported only eight birds have tested positive this year, but a community resource specialist with the Vector Control District of Santa Clara County said the area is predicted to be one of the epicenters of West Nile Virus in the state.

“History says this will be the year it really blows up and expands [in Santa Clara County],” said Kriss Costa, the specialist.

The Vector Control District’s Web site has pictures of birds that carry the virus and should be reported if found dead. Birds to watch for include American crows, common ravens, western scrub jays, stellar jays and hawks. Costa asked that people report dead birds to the Vector Control District at 792-5011 or call the state hotline at 877-WNV-BIRD (968-2473). The information is important in tracking the spread of the virus, she said.

The Almaden and Willow Glen areas of San Jose are infested with mosquitoes and while South County residents may not see the skeeters flying around in large numbers yet, Costa warns they will. And of course, the abundance of mosquitoes brings with it a higher chance of getting bit.

The time to start taking precautions is now.

“The number one thing is to be sure there is no standing water and the next is to use insect repellent,” Costa said. “What we saw in Southern California’s experience is that even though people know they should be using an insect repellent and it does work, more than 70 percent don’t use it.”

Wearing long sleeve shirts and long pants during peak mosquito times, the hours from dusk to dawn, and spraying an insect repellent with DEET directly on clothes is a good way to keep the biting pests away.

Well-fitting screens on windows and doors also keep mosquitoes out of homes. The vector control district can recommend treatments for home and stable owners to help mosquito proof a residence. They also offer door hangers with mosquito prevention tips that homeowner’s associations and other community groups can hand out within the neighborhood.

The vector control district has an easy to understand brochure online that includes info on keeping ponds, pools and gutters free of mosquitoes. The state of California also has a Web site westnile.ca.gov that has tips as well as the latest information on infections by county.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture said horse owners need to be especially vigilante this year about getting their animals vaccinated. While there were no cases of WNV in horses in Santa Clara, Monterey or San Benito counties last year, the director of public affairs for CDFA said equine owners need to act now to protect their animals.

“If horses have already been vaccinated, they should contact their veterinarian to make sure all West Nile Virus vaccines are current,” said Director Steve Lyle. If they have not been vaccinated, they should see their veterinarians right away, he said. Horses do not pass the disease on to other horses or humans, but it is spread via mosquitoes who contract the disease from birds.

Costa added people should inform themselves so they can best deal with West Nile Virus.

“We don’t want people to panic, but we don’t want them to be complacent,” Costa said.

Melissa Flores is an intern, who recently graduated from the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. Reach her at 842-1526 or [email protected]

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