West Nile making tracks for Tahoe | TahoeDailyTribune.com

West Nile making tracks for Tahoe

The West Nile virus will reach Tahoe, but not before snow falls because mosquito season at South Shore ended in July.

“It’s inevitable. It will be here,” said Ginger Huber, El Dorado County environmental manager at South Shore, who will be part of the county task force being formed to fight the virus.

“They’re working on a vaccine, hoping to make it available in about three years, but I think it’s a disease we will have to deal with from now on.”

Huber, who attended a state conference on the virus last week at the University of California at Davis, said the virus has not been detected in birds or horses in the state, but it has been found in one human, a Los Angeles woman.

How the woman contracted the virus is a mystery.

“I think the case in Los Angeles surprised everyone,” Huber said. “She had not left the state for 10 years, so people are assuming her exposure occurred in the state of California … She lives near two parks and LAX.”

The Contra Costa Public Health Department on Sept. 18 reported the West Nile virus likely caused a resident to contract encephalitis. The department has not confirmed the virus made the resident sick, but the resident had recently been to Illinois, a state with almost 500 reported cases of the West Nile.

“The risk of becoming ill from the bite of a mosquito infected with the virus is quite low,” said Dr. Wendel Brunner, public health director at Contra Costa County.

Many people who are bitten by an infected mosquito have no symptoms. People who do get ill may suffer a fever, headache, nausea, body aches, mild skin rash or swollen lymph nodes.

Illness often sets in five to 15 days after the virus is introduced, which can happen during a blood transfusion. The Food and Drug Administration hopes to have blood banks testing donated blood for the virus by next summer, even if it means using an experimental test.

An estimated 1 in 150 people who catch the disease will require hospital treatment. Of the more than 2,000 people infected this year, 98 have died. The virus becomes serious if it progresses into encephalitis, which causes inflammation of the brain, or meningitis, the swelling of membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord.

El Dorado County staff need to have its task force ready soon, because the team is scheduled to make a presentation to the Board of Supervisors on Oct. 8.

Huber is in charge of Vector Control, which eliminates populations of mosquitoes at South Shore. Next spring, Vector will increase its surveillance for the insects and trap some to test them for the virus. Technicians kill larger populations of mosquitoes with larvacide, Huber said.

South Shore is home to Culex mosquitoes, which can feed off birds and become infected with the virus. Mosquitoes born from snowmelt typically out number the Culex population in the area, Huber said.

Dead birds are a calling card of the virus. If anyone sees a dead magpie, jay, raven or crows, report it by calling (877) WNV-BIRD.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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