By Katie Porter
Vector control officials went door to door in a neighborhood near Santa Ana College last week in response to the county’s worst outbreak since West Nile virus first appeared in California in 2004.
The drought, combined with heat and humidity, creates a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.
“This year we believe it has a lot to do with the drought, and while that seems counterintuitive, it makes sense. We overwater. We use lots and lots of water on our properties. Since places like the foothills are dry, they are attracted to urban areas,” Jared Dever, director of communications at Orange County Vector Control District said.
Orange County accounts for almost 40 percent of California’s 375 recorded cases, with three deaths and 139 infections this year.
Orange County Vector Control District reported more than 80 percent of dead birds tested positive.
Santa Ana is ground zero for the virus, with 54 reported cases of human infection and one death. In recent years, infection numbers stayed in the single digits.
Vector control officials visited residents of Washington Square, blocks from campus, looking for standing water where eggs develop and hatch. Dever said a high number of mosquitoes and birds in that area tested positive for West Nile.
Plans to fumigate four neighborhoods in Santa Ana were postponed because of weather conditions.
Effective spraying requires low-lying fog and wind speeds between five and 10 mph, according to county vector control officials.
The possibility of dispersing poison throughout the city raised concerns from residents wary of health risks to themselves and their pets.
On campus, officials began looking for possible breeding grounds. Facilities Manager Mark Wheeler identified a storm drain between the U-building and Middle College High School that doesn’t properly pump to the city drain system.
“Water sits in there. We’ve been trying to pump it out every day. I’ve been sending my guys out there to get on top of it as quickly as possible,” he said.
Vector officials routinely inspect campus, Wheeler said.
Many cases of West Nile virus go unreported because the majority of people bitten by a mosquito experience only minor symptoms, or none.
“It just goes away in 80 percent of people. They get it and they don’t even know they have it,” Billie Ganong, nurse at SAC’s Health and Wellness Center said. “About 20 percent are going to have some flu-like symptoms, maybe some nausea and vomiting.”
The virus can be deadly, however, especially for children and those older than 60. In one percent of cases it leads to encephalitis, a viral infection that causes swelling of the brain. Those with weakened immune systems are also at risk of contracting it.
“I haven’t seen anything. Young people don’t usually get encephalitis, although it can happen,” Ganong said. “We have older people on this campus and our staff as well. So it is a concern.”
Hundreds of children are on campus every day at the Child Development Center. There are 214 children enrolled at the school and daycare facility this semester, ranging from 6 months to 5 years olds.
To ensure protection from the virus, the Center for Disease Control recommends wearing insect repellent and long sleeves and pants during dusk and dawn.
Around the house, repair any broken screens and get rid of standing water in dishes, pools and pet bowls.