A total of six dead birds in Long Beach have tested positive for the mosquito-borne West Nile virus this year, with reports showing up in eastern to western parts of the city, health officials said. Samples from three mosquito traps also tested positive for the virus in addition to one trap in Signal Hill.
The reports come just as health officials have confirmed the first human death attributed to the virus in Los Angeles County this year. Local health officials reported that a Carson man in his late 70s recently died after being diagnosed with the virus, though he had other complications at the time. As of press time, there were only two other known West Nile virus-related deaths reported in California this year– one in Glenn County and one in Sacramento County.
Vector-control officials note that the virus is most active in South Bay areas of the county, such as Torrance, Carson and Lomita, yet it has also drifted into Long Beach, which was the first city in the county to report a dead bird with the virus this year.
West Nile virus, which is common in California and other parts of the United States, is most prevalent during hot summer months.
In May, a dead crow was found with West Nile virus near El Dorado Park on the 7000 block of East Spring Street. Shortly thereafter, another deceased and infected crow was found in the same area on the 2000 block of Studebaker Road, according to Levy Sun, spokesperson for the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District (GLACVCD).
Since then, four other birds were reported, with one in Long Beach’s 1st Council District in the harbor area, one in the 4th District near Cal State Long Beach, one in the 5th District near the Long Beach Airport and one in the 7th District near the Los Angeles River. Birds with West Nile virus have also been found in Downey and San Pedro.
As for Signal Hill, there have been no dead birds reported yet, however a mosquito trap located on the 2000 block of Rose Street tested positive for the virus during a routine surveillance test last month.
Sun said a slight rise in reports might mean that either more people are becoming aware of the problem and are reporting dead birds, or there in fact may be an increase in West Nile virus activity in the Long Beach area.
Whatever the case, people should take extra precautions to guard from mosquitoes this year, he said. “I would say people should not be alarmed, but this is just a good indication that people should take some measures and precaution to protect themselves from mosquitoes,” Sun said.
Sun and other health officials point out that West Nile virus is “endemic” to parts of California, meaning the disease is regularly found throughout the state. The virus, which originated in Africa, started showing up in the United States in 1999, when the first cases of the disease were reported. Since 2003, there have been 130 reported deaths caused by the virus in California alone, according to state statistics.
“What a lot of people don’t know is West Nile virus is endemic, which means that it’s here to stay in the LA County area,” Sun said. “It’s going to occur every year, no matter what.”
Humans mostly contract the disease through mosquito bites. Mosquitoes, also called “vectors,” can spread the disease to humans and animals after feeding on infected birds, according to the California Department of Public Health’s website. The virus is not spread through touching or kissing a person, and contracting it through a blood transfusion is rare, the website states.
Historical data show that young children and adults over the age of 60, particularly those with medical illnesses, are more susceptible to dying from the virus, however, young adults may be just as much at risk, Sun said.
He said about 80 percent of people who contract West Nile virus don’t show any symptoms and often don’t know they have it until they try to donate blood. “A lot of times they are really healthy individuals without having any actual symptoms,” Sun said. Also, he said the virus is found not only in crows, but other corvid-family birds, such as jays, kestrels and finches.
Long Beach is lucky in that it has two different agencies monitoring for outbreaks.
GLACVCD only monitors mosquito traps in a portion of the city, mostly eastern Long Beach, with one sample site located near Bixby Ranch and another site near the intersection of Avalon and Del Amo Boulevard. County vector-control officials also look to reduce mosquito breeding in certain areas.
The City, however, has its own vector-control program that monitors the entire city through the Long Beach Health and Human Services Department. The department utilizes 23 mosquito traps dispersed throughout the city in addition to four chicken coops, in which chickens are used to gauge the prevalence of the virus.
Nelson Kerr, Environmental Health Bureau manager for the Long Beach Health and Human Services Department, said Los Angeles County in particular appears to be seeing more West Nile virus cases than most other parts of California this year.
“Los Angeles County is having more activity than most of the other counties in the state,” he said. “This virus kind of ping-pongs back and forth between north and south. So it will be up north for a while, and then it will come back down south. This year, it looks like the epicenter is more in the south.”
In Long Beach, the last person to die from West Nile virus was in 2004, when an 88-year-old woman fell victim to the disease.
In California, so far this year, there have been three deaths and 37 human cases from 16 counties that have tested positive for the virus, according to the California Department of Public Health website.
In terms of taking precaution, Kerr said people in general should follow the “five Ds”: DEET (repellent); Dress (in pants and long-sleeve shirts); Drain (stagnant water); Doors (with adequate screens); and the Dead-bird program. The health department also advises to avoid mosquito-infested areas, especially at dawn and dusk, when the insects are most active. Kerr said to report a dead bird, call the dead-bird hotline at (877) WNV-BIRD.