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Calaveras County Health Aides Keep Eye On West Nile

“Fight the Bite” is the message Public Health officials in Calaveras County are spreading as cases of the West Nile virus have been reported in neighboring counties.

A barn owl in San Joaquin County was discovered with a West Nile infection and birds in Santa Clara and Sacramento counties tested positive for the virus last week. The virus also has been detected in mosquitoes in Stanislaus and Fresno counties.

Thirty-five cases of the virus have been reported in humans in California and the first human fatality in the state was confirmed in Orange County earlier this year. No cases of the virus have yet appeared in Calaveras County, but officials expect it to show up this season. “The virus is moving north rapidly and the numbers of human cases in California and the U.S. are high for the time of year,” said Colleen Tracy, Public Health director.

As of July 20, 189 cases have been reported in humans in 11 states across the country. Only 11 cases were reported in seven states by this time last year.

“Right now, preventing exposure to mosquitoes is the best protection for people of all ages,” said Dr. Dean Kelaita, county health officer.

The virus is most often spread by infected mosquitoes, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The insects become carriers of West Nile when they feed on infected birds. Then, the bugs bite humans, horses and a few other mammals, carrying the disease with them.

About one in 150 people infected with the virus develop serious illness. Symptoms of serious West Nile infection include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, tremors, convulsions and even loss of vision.

Up to 20 percent of people who contract the disease display milder symptoms, including fever, headache and body aches, nausea, vomiting, and, occasionally, swollen lymph glands. A rash also can develop on the chest, stomach and back. The symptoms may last a few days or several weeks.

Most people who are infected with the West Nile Virus – about 80 percent – don´t show any symptoms at all, the CDC says.

To avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes, health officials say people should limit outdoor activities around dawn and dusk – when mosquitoes are most active. Authorities suggest wearing long-sleeve shirts, socks and long pants while outside during these times, or people should use an insect repellant that contains DEET.

Outside, make sure there is no standing water near the home, including pet dishes and wading pools. Officials recommend frequently changing pets´ water and tipping over wading pools when they are not in use.

Drill holes in the bottom of tire swings too, and make sure potted plants aren´t hiding extra water.

For the inside of the home, make sure all window and door screens fit properly and that there are no holes or tears in them.

As the virus spreads north, authorities are interested in examining dead birds, Tracy said. If a dead bird is found and it is believed the animal has been dead less than 24 hours, the person should call (877) WNV-BIRD (968-2473).

“Knowing if the virus is present in local birds is our primary means of early virus detection,” Tracy said.

Though the virus cannot be spread from birds to humans, authorities recommend not touching dead birds.

Horses are more vulnerable to West Nile virus than humans. Up to 40 percent of the equine cases are fatal, but there is a vaccine for horses that is readily available. Horse owners are urged to contact their veterinarian for more information.

“West Nile virus is not a highly dangerous disease in humans, but it is a new disease in California,” Kelaita said. The people most at risk for developing serious cases of the virus are people over 50 and those with weakened immune systems.

There is no vaccine yet for humans. The CDC said scientists are working on one, but it is at least five years away. Anyone who experiences flu-like illness – especially with a stiff neck – for more than three or four days should contact their physician, Kelaita said.

Visit co.calaveras.ca.us and click on “departments,” then “health services agency” for more information, or call 754-6460.

Calaveras Enterprise story by Mike Taylor. For more Calaveras news, click: calaverasenterprise.com