West Nile expected to hit area hard | SierraSun.com

West Nile expected to hit area hard

David Bunker
Sierra Sun
Sun file photo
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Fueled by abundant snowmelt and warming temperatures, Truckee is headed for a West Nile virus season that will be much stronger and longer than last year, Nevada County officials warn.

This summer will mark the second year that West Nile has been detected in Nevada County. The second and third years after the disease is introduced are known to be the most severe, according to experts.

“It’s going to be a big, big year, we’re predicting,” said Janet Mann, an employee of the Nevada County Environmental Health Department.

West Nile virus, which first appeared in the United States in 1999, is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected mosquitoes. Most people bitten by the infected insects will not get sick, and most people that do get sick will only be mildly ill. Less than one percent of infected humans, mostly people with weak immune systems, will become severely ill or die, according to state data.

In 2004, 830 people were infected with West Nile virus in California.

While Southern California has born the brunt of the disease’s spread in the last two years, this year Northern California is expected to be the epicenter of West Nile virus activity, said Nevada County Director of Environmental Health Larry Sage, who lives in Truckee.

“They haven’t picked up (any signs of the virus) in Nevada County yet, but all indications are it is going to start early,” Sage said.

Much of the effort against West Nile virus is focused on killing the mosquito larvae that have the potential to become carriers of the disease. But throughout Nevada County, just like last year, much of the prevention work will be left to individual residents because the county does not have the money to finance widespread mosquito abatement.

“We still don’t have any major funding so we are not going to be doing anything different that last year,” Sage said.

This situation heightens the importance of education on how to eliminate mosquito breeding locations and minimize exposure to potentially infected mosquitos. There are several things that every citizen can do to combat West Nile virus, Sage said, including

– Eliminating all sources of standing water on your property that can support mosquito breeding. This includes swimming pools, ponds, bird feeders and any other source of water that is not regularly circulating.

– When outdoors at dawn or dusk, when mosquitoes are most active, wear protective clothing and use insect repellent with DEET according to label instructions.

– Make sure your doors and windows have adequate screens, and repair those that do not.

West Nile virus isn’t a passing problem, either. It is a disease that will be present in Nevada County, at some level, indefinitely, experts say.

“We have West Nile forever now,” said Sage.

Sage, Nevada County Supervisor Ted Owens, and California Senator Dave Cox have lobbied for state money to support increased disease prevention in the county, and other rural counties, that would more effectively control the disease.

Along with state money, officials have bandied about the idea of a tax or assessment to finance disease control in the county. But Owens said he thinks that money would not be available for a while and could be a tough sell.

“It’s very difficult to convince the public that we need a revenue stream that might be a tax, unless people get sick,” Owens said.

But that reactive reasoning could prevent the county from attacking the disease with enough resources to keep it from becoming a larger problem.

“We need to be out in front of it,” Owens said.

Owens and Sage attended a state Senate subcommittee hearing on Wednesday to lobby for additional state funding. The proposed state budget has $12 million in it for rural counties to combat West Nile.

Owens is hoping that that funding could increase by the time the budget is approved.