The Oroville Mercury Register reports on California's first West Nile virus death in 2012. An elderly Kern County resident has fallen victim to the illness, which is frequently transmitted by mosquitoes.
What is West Nile virus?
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) describes West Nile virus as a "virus carried by mosquitoes." Causing a seasonal disease outbreak, California health authorities first detected it in 2003.
Are the elderly more vulnerable to the virus?
Health officials warn that seniors over the age of 50 have a higher likelihood of getting sick after exposure to the virus. They are also at a greater risk of dying. Looking back at 2011 statistics, health officials note that seniors made up 66 percent of fatalities traced back to West Nile virus. Other risk groups include those undergoing cancer treatments or individuals with compromised immune systems.
Is West Nile virus currently active across California?
Although the virus can make its way across the entire Golden State, the California West Nile Virus website notes that so far there are only confirmed cases in 27 counties. As of August, these counties are Butte, Colusa, Contra Costa, Fresno, Glenn, Imperial, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, Madera, Merced, Orange, Placer, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tulare, Ventura, Yolo and Yuba.
How many cases of the virus have officials verified so far?
In six counties, there are confirmed cases of human infection with West Nile virus. These counties are Fresno (1), Kern (3), Los Angeles (1), Merced (1), Orange (1) and Stanislaus (4). In addition to human infections, there are to date infections reported in horses (4), birds (567), mosquitoes (921) and chickens (48). So far, there are no reports of infected squirrels. Sacramento County has the highest count of dead birds with 325 specimens.
Are West Nile virus cases on the increase?
When compared to August 2011 figures, it becomes clear that West Nile virus cases are on the rise. At the same time last year, there were only 18 affected counties and seven human cases of the disease. Moreover, there were only 111 dead birds and 392 mosquitoes that tested positive.
What should California residents do, if they find a dead bird or squirrel?
The CDPH urges Californians to call 1-877-968-2473 and report dead birds and squirrels. Known as the West Nile virus or dead bird hotline, callers should try to identify the type of bird, when the carcass was spotted, and also the intersection and ZIP code of the location. Callers can leave a detailed message after hours.
Sylvia Cochran is a Los Angeles area resident with a firm finger on the pulse of California politics. Talk radio junkie, community volunteer and politically independent, she scrutinizes the good and the bad from both sides of the political aisle.