Based on test samples from multiple dead birds and mosquitoes, officials said Thursday that Stanislaus County residents are at risk of contracting West Nile disease.
The county’s two mosquito abatement districts said Thursday that the potentially deadly virus was present in Modesto, Turlock, Hughson and Valley Home after samples from five dead birds and three mosquito pools tested positive. The endemic illness is expected to be a threat everywhere in the county by the Fourth of July weekend when thousands of people will be outdoors enjoying festivities.
“This early detection of so much West Nile virus activity, not only in Stanislaus County, but the state in general, has us concerned,” said David Heft, general manager of Turlock Mosquito Abatement District.
Thus far, no dead birds in Merced County have tested positive for West Nile virus this year.
The district cited scientific evidence that suggests the warm spring temperatures this year will result in higher incidence of West Nile illness later in the summer. Officials hope to raise awareness about the health threat so people can take precautions, such as applying insect repellant, before going outside in short sleeves and cutoffs.
As of Wednesday, the virus that causes neurological illness had been detected in 18 counties in California. There were no reports of people stricken with illness.
Symptoms of the milder form of West Nile illness – headache, joint pain, vomiting, rash or fatigue – can last for several weeks or months. About 20 percent of people infected will experience symptoms. Fewer than 1 percent develop encephalitis with high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, tremors, coma or paralysis.
California had 379 reported cases of the illness with 15 deaths last year.
In Stanislaus County, the East Side and Turlock mosquito abatement districts arrange for tests on mosquitoes and dead birds to identify where the virus is present. The districts spray insecticides in those areas and use other measures to reduce mosquito counts.
Officials are urging residents to eliminate standing water around their homes where mosquitoes can lay their eggs. It’s good to change the water in pet dishes and birdbaths regularly. Other potential havens for mosquitoes are rain gutters, flower pots and old tires. Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and during the two hours after sunset.
Report dead birds, such as crows and magpies, by calling a state hotline at (877) 968-2473.