Riverside County combats increase in West Nile virus

Six cases out of the 113 diagnosed West Nile virus cases have resulted in death in Riverside as of Oct. 29.  According to Riverside County’s disease watch statistics this has increased from last year’s 15 total cases of the virus.

West Nile is a virus that originates in birds. Birds are bitten by mosquitos who then contract the virus. They then bite humans and animals, transferring the disease. The disease is more often contracted by young children and the elderly due to weaker immune systems.

It is a common misconception that mosquitoes and West Nile flourish in secluded areas. Barry Hess, environmental health specialist IV of Riverside Vector Control urges the public to remember this is not the case.

“It doesn’t really matter where you live,” Hess said. “You are always going to run the possibility of being exposed to mosquito-borne viruses.”

While the numbers this year may be striking, Barbara Cole, director for disease control in the Department of Public Health for Riverside County, encourages a look at the trends in cases over the years.

“We have been seeing West Nile cases in Riverside since 2004,” Cole said. “In 2004, we actually had 116 cases. Over the years you will have some up years and some down years, but you have to look at a trend to see how big of a problem.”

While there are specific factors that can cause mosquito populations to flourish, such as bodies of stagnant water, much of the reasons for the virus are out of human control.

“Some of it has to do with how many birds are in our area, how many mosquitos will feed on them and then feed on people,” Cole said. “It’s a combination of factors. We know that West Nile virus is established in our community, but it is a matter of all the right conditions existing.”

The city’s Public Health Department, under Cole, is also working to ensure all communities are aware of the issue and can take the proper measures.

“We advise people to contact their health care provider if they have symptoms and they are concerned it is West Nile,” Cole said.

Symptoms include fever, headaches and can result in convulsions and paralysis.

Vector Control is also taking measures to ensure the health by performing area sprays to try to combat both adult mosquitoes and the larvae before they hatch.

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