West Nile spreads to Tulare County

By Reggie Ellis

The discovery of West Nile virus in Three Rivers has raised concerns throughout Tulare County. But those concerns may be magnified in the communities of Lindsay, Porterville and Springville as well.

None of these communities are protected by a mosquito abatement district.

Since 1915, mosquito abatement and vector control districts have protected Californians and their communities against the threats of diseases and pathogens carried by mosquitoes. Control districts are funded through a special tax assessment. Northern Tulare County is protected by the Delta Vector Control District formed in 1922. Its boundaries follow the county line to the north, and west, foothills to the east and Highway 137 to the south. Tulare and portions of southern Tulare County are covered by the Tulare Mosquito Abatement District, leaving 53,000 people in the Porterville-Lindsay area without coverage.

In his May revision of the state budget, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger included $977,000 to increase efforts to monitor and control the spread of virus. Assembly Member Bill Maze (R-Visalia), whose district includes most of Tulare County, sent a letter to the governor on July 22 urging him to immediately allocate emergency funds to combat the spread of West Nile Virus.

"Immediate funds are also necessary to contain the spread of the virus in the Non-Vector Control areas," Maze wrote.

In the letter, Maze wrote that several years ago, funds were immediately found in the state's agriculture budget to control the Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter, an insect that spreads Pierce's disease, which chokes the water out of grape vines.

Dr. Danae Hansen, Public Health Officer for Tulare County, said Tulare County doesn't have plans to spray for mosquitoes in the communities not protected by abatement districts.

"If they do find a lot of mosquitoes around, they pretty much just have to try and protect themselves and avoid the peak mosquito times," she said.

Yolanda Lourenco, assistant manager for the Delta Vector Control District, said they will not respond to calls for mosquito abatement from any location outside of their district. She said Lindsay, Porterville, Springville and Three Rivers would have to file an application with the Local Agency Formation Committee (LAFCO) before starting a special tax district.

The Tulare County Health & Human Services Agency confirmed on July 22 that a dead scrub jay found in Three Rivers tested positive for West Nile Virus. It is the first confirmed case of West Nile Virus to be found in Tulare County this year. There have been no human cases of the virus in Tulare County yet this year.

Hansen emphasizes, "the risk of serious illness to humans is low. Most individuals who are infected with West Nile Virus will not experience any illness." About 10 percent to 15 percent of infected individuals will have only mild to moderate symptoms, such as fever, headache and body aches. Less than 1 percent of individuals will develop serious neurological illnesses such as encephalitis and meningitis. The elderly and those with lowered immune systems are more susceptible to serious illness. West Nile Virus is transmitted to humans and animals through a mosquito bite. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds.

The virus does not really affect dogs and cats or cattle. According to the CDC few dogs and only one cat have been reported to have the virus. No dogs have shown any symptoms and most cats only exhibited slight symptoms, such as a mild fever. No cows have shown any symptoms for West Nile Virus.

Horses are the most at risk for a fatal viral attack. Approximately 40 percent of equine West Nile Virus cases result in the death of the horse, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). There are currently two fully approved West Nile Virus vaccines available for horses. Each requires an initial series of at least two vaccinations, followed by periodic "booster" injections. The Center for Equine Health recommends that horse owners keep their horses properly vaccinated at all times against this disease. The CDC suggests that horse owners consult with their personal veterinarian regarding which vaccine is most appropriate for their particular horses and how often they should administer booster vaccinations.

Protect Yourself

Tulare County Health and Human Services urges citizens to take the following precautions:

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