By Jason KUROSU
Cases of West Nile Virus have cropped up around the country as the summer months have given rise to more prevalent mosquito activity and thus present a greater risk.
Two cases of West Nile Virus were reported in Los Angeles County in July in a pair of unidentified patients, a woman in her 60s and a man in his 20s. Allen Solomon, public information officer with the Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Health, said the department would be releasing more statistics on human cases of West Nile Virus.
Overall, there have been 57 cases of West Nile Virus detected in California this year, according to the latest numbers from the California Dept. of Public Health. Thus far, two of those cases have resulted in fatalities in Northern California’s Sacramento and Shasta counties. Among the fatalities are a 74-year-old woman and another unidentified adult.
“This is a very sad outcome, one we had hoped to prevent. We are working to educate people about steps that can be taken to prevent contracting West Nile Virus,” said Sacramento County Health Officer Olivia Kasirye in a press release.
Despite this, less than 1% of infected people develop severe illness and about 80% of infected people have no symptoms at all. The risk is much higher for those over the age of 50.
2013 produced 379 reported cases of West Nile Virus, with 15 deaths.
The Dept. of Public Health has been monitoring the numbers of infected mosquitoes and dead birds to chart the spread of the virus. The department also uses sentinel chickens which, much like the classic example of canaries in coal mines, alert whether mosquitoes in the surrounding area are infected with West Nile Virus. The difference is that while canaries died when exposed to lethal gases in mines, chickens develop rapid immunity to West Nile Virus when infected and don’t develop symptoms.
Health officials urge precautions that they have dubbed “the four D’s” – Deet, Dress, Dusk (and Dawn) and Drain.
DEET refers to the most common ingredient in insect repellant, an obvious tool for fighting off mosquitoes.
Dress refers to dressing to avoid mosquito bites, such as wearing long pants and long sleeved shirts and/or jackets.
Dusk and dawn are times to be avoided, if possible, as they are the prime times of day when mosquitoes are apt to interact with humans.
Drain refers to draining stagnant water such as found in swimming pools, fountains, flowerpots or anywhere else where water is collecting. Mosquitoes breed in these places.