Image shows Culex quinquefasciatus, a representative of the Culex genus of mosquitoes. (Photo courtesy Centers for Disease Control)

CITYWIDE — Three more dead birds infected with West Nile virus have turned up in Santa Monica, bringing the total to eight in what is considered the worst year for the disease on record.

The new birds were found in the 90402 and 90404 zip codes, where several of the other birds were found.

Although mosquitoes get the most attention during West Nile season, it’s actually birds, particularly the American crow, that carry the disease. When mosquitoes feed on those birds, they become infected and can then transmit the illness to people.

Less than 1 percent of people exposed to the virus get serious symptoms, and only around 20 percent of those infected show any symptoms at all.

They can include fever, headaches or body aches that last a few days. In extreme cases, people can get a high fever, stupor, coma, convulsions, paralysis and even die.

In California alone, 258 people have come up with the virus compared to only 113 by the same time last year, and 10 people have died.

Over the same time period, approximately 650 more mosquito samples turned up and 1,000 more dead birds have been found.

Nationally, 4,249 cases have been reported and 168 deaths as of Oct. 9. That’s considerably more than the 712 cases and 43 deaths reported in all of 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

It also makes this one of the most active years for the virus since it first appeared in the United States in 1999.

Still, said Norma Arceo, a spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health, officials hesitate to call the season “unusual” because they expect the number of cases to vary from year to year.

However, the number of reports may decline as the weather gets cooler.

“The level of (West Nile Virus) activity is influenced by a number of factors, including the weather and the number of types of mosquitoes and birds in the area,” she said.

Even as weather conditions change, people should stay vigilant to protect themselves from exposure.

Because West Nile virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, people should avoid being outside during dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active and should wear insect repellents with DEET, picaradin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus, which are the longest lasting and most effective.

The Los Angeles County West Vector & Vector-Borne Disease Control District recommends draining any standing pools of water which attract mosquitoes and ensure that doors and windows have tight-fitting screens to keep the bugs out.

 

 

ashley@smdp.com