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First case of human West Nile virus reported in Ventura County

August 29, 2012
Santa Paula News

A woman living in the eastern portion of Ventura County is the first human case of West Nile virus reported in the county, according to a public heath official.

The woman, in her early 50s, is the first human case of the virus in Ventura County since the summer of 2007. According to Dr. Robert Levin, Ventura County Public Health officer, it was one of eight reported cases in California last week. To date in 2012, there have been 26 human cases reported in California.

The Ventura County woman suffered mosquito bites at her East Ventura County home and approximately one week later experienced flu-like symptoms. She subsequently developed West Nile virus neuroinvasive disease and was hospitalized with meningitis, confirmed by the state to be caused by the virus. The woman, according to the county Public Health’s Communicable Disease Program, has since been released from the hospital and continues to recover at home.

West Nile virus has plagued Texas with an outbreak so serious that aerial spraying for mosquitoes was launched to attempt to control its spread. There have been more than 700 human cases reported so far in Texas that killed 22 people. 

The virus is transmitted to humans and animals through mosquito bites from insects that become infected by feeding on infected birds that are often found dead from the virus. Less than one percent of those infected develop serious neurological illnesses, but individuals 50 or older or those with diabetes and/or hypertension or a compromised immune system have a higher chance of getting sick and are more likely to develop serious symptoms.

The Ventura County Public Health’s Communicable Disease Program offers recommendations on how to avoid getting bitten by a mosquito.

To keep mosquitoes from biting, use an EPA-registered insect repellent with DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535 listed on the label. DEET can be used safely on infants and children ages 2 months and older.

Mosquitoes that carry the virus tend to bite in the early morning and evening, so wear clothes that reduce the risk of skin exposure to mosquito bites during these times: wear long sleeves, tuck pants into socks. Also, make sure doors and windows have tight-fitting screens to keep mosquitoes out of buildings.

Eliminate all still water on your property, including buckets, pet bowls, flowerpots and barrels. Change the water in pet dishes and replace the water in birdbaths weekly. Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out. Keep children’s wading pools empty and on their sides when they aren’t being used. If you see standing water on anyone’s property report it. Use mosquito fish or commercial products to eliminate mosquito larvae if you have a pond.

Horses also need annual vaccinations to protect them from equine West Nile virus.

If you find a dead bird, do not handle the body with your bare hands. Contact California Department of Public Health for instructions on reporting and disposal. They may tell you to dispose of the bird after they log your report. Call (877) 968-2473 to report a dead bird.

The virus causes serious symptoms in a few people and about one in 150 people infected with the virus will develop severe illness. Severe symptoms can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent.

Up to 20 percent of the people who become infected have milder symptoms such as fever, headache, and body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. Symptoms can last for as short as a few days, though even healthy people have become sick for several weeks. Approximately 80 percent of people (about 4 out of 5) who are infected with West Nile virus will not show any symptoms at all.

For the latest information on West Nile Virus in California, go to: http://westnile.ca.gov/. Ventura County residents can visit: http://www.ventura.org/rma/envhealth/technicalservices/vector/index.html for local information. For more information, call (800) 781-4449 or go to www.vchca.org/ph.