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September 26, 2001
CALIFORNIA MOSQUITO SURVEILLANCE
for West Nile Virus Carrier!
By William Heasrtstone, Staff Writer
FRESNO STATE -- California
is expanding its surveillance for West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne
viruses, State Health Director Diana Bontá, R.N., Dr.P.H., announced
The state already has an extensive monitoring
system for St. Louis encephalitis and Western equine encephalomyelitis.
Seven people died and 55 became ill from West Nile virus on the
east coast last summer after its detection in New York. Three
cases have been confirmed in New York so far this year.
Services (DHS) has collaborated with
the University of California and about 50 local mosquito and vector
control agencies throughout California to look for St. Louis encephalitis
and Western equine encephalomyelitis," she said.
"When virus activity is detected, the
local districts initiate special efforts to control mosquitoes
in the area before humans are at high risk. This system has prevented
outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases in California." St. Louis
encephalitis has been detected this summer in mosquitoes and sentinel
chickens in Riverside and Imperial counties.
This virus is detected each summer, primarily
in Southern California. Western equine encephalomyelitis usually
is found every summer in California, mostly in the Central Valley,
it has not yet been detected this year.
In most healthy individuals, infection
with St. Louis encephalitis and Western equine encephalomyelitis
viruses produces only mild symptoms, such as headache, fever,
fatigue or muscle ache.
Severe and potentially fatal illness
can occur among infants and the elderly. No human cases of St.
Louis encephalitis or Western equine encephalomyelitis have been
reported in California since 1997.
Most individuals exposed to West Nile
virus experience low-grade fever, slight fatigue, aches and mild
headache. A smaller percentage may experience general flu like
symptoms, including fever, headache, muscle ache and swollen lymph
The elderly and individuals with immunocompromised
systems may experience severe headache, neck stiffness, high fever,
various central nervous abnormalities and sometimes death. Through
the collaborative system, mosquitoes are collected and tested
for the presence of the viruses. Approximately 200 flocks of sentinel
chickens also are maintained throughout the state to monitor virus
activity in mosquitoes that bite them.
Blood samples are obtained from chickens
every two weeks and examined by DHS' Viral and Rickettsial Disease
Laboratory in Berkeley for evidence of exposure to St. Louis encephalitis,
Western equine encephalomyelitis and now West Nile virus. Chickens
are ideal for surveillance because they develop antibodies to
mosquito-borne viruses, but do not become ill when exposed to
the viruses. The testing process does not harm the chickens.
surveillance system is possible through a $90,000 grant from the
federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The funding
will enhance DHS' ability to monitor for the emergence of West
Nile virus in California by allowing the testing of dead birds,
increased testing of humans with meningitis and encephalitis,
and increased testing of horses with encephalitis.
Bontá urged Californians, particularly
residents who live or work near rural wetlands, to take the following
precautions against mosquito bites: Avoid activity outside at
dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
When engaging in outdoor activities,
wear long pants, long sleeve shirts and other protective clothing
and apply insect repellant according to label instructions. Keep
infants indoors during peak mosquito hours.
If outside, cover cribs, bassinets or
playpens with suspended mosquito netting. Identify and eliminate
all sources of standing water around property that can support
For more mosquito control ideas or to
report unusual mosquito activity, contact your local mosquito
and vector control district. Horses also are susceptible to mosquito-borne
viruses and should be vaccinated each year.
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