West Nile virus

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Drought May Be Driving Increase in West Nile

A security guard walks the perimeter of the Almaden Reservoir on January 28, 2014 in San Jose, California. Now in its third straight year of drought conditions, California is experiencing its driest year on record, dating back 119 years, and reservoirs throughout the state have low water levels. Santa Clara County reservoirs are at 3 percent of capacity or lower. California Gov. Jerry Brown officially declared a drought emergency to speed up assistance to local governments, streamline water transfers and potentially ease environmental protection requirements for dam releases. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A security guard walks the perimeter of the Almaden Reservoir in San Jose. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Public health experts say the state’s historic drought is partly to blame for the recent rise in West Nile virus infections. Cases this year have more than doubled to 311, compared to the same time last year.

West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes. They contract the virus when they feed on infected birds, then spread it to other birds they bite next. A shortage of water can accelerate this cycle.

“When we have less water, birds and mosquitoes are seeking out the same water sources, and therefore are more likely to come in to closer proximity to one another, thus amplifying the virus,” said Vicki Kramer, chief of vector-borne diseases at the state department of public health.

Also, the water sources that do exist are more likely to stagnate. Stagnant water creates an excellent habitat for mosquitoes to breed. Continue reading

West Nile Virus Infections in California at All-Time High (Map of Cases by County)

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West Nile virus is hosted primarily by birds — and spread by mosquitos. (Getty Images)

West Nile Virus infections in mosquitoes are at their highest recorded level ever in California. Last week, 52 new human cases were reported, bringing the total to 181.

Eight people have died from the illness.

“If you’re out there at a time of day when the mosquitoes are out — particularly at dawn and dusk — the risk of being bitten with an infected mosquito is higher than it’s been in the past,” said James Watt of the California Department of Public Health. Continue reading

West Nile Virus Making Its Summer Trek Across California

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West Nile virus is hosted primarily by birds — and spread by mosquitos. (Getty Images)

By Brittany Patterson

A year ago this month, my 80-year-old grandmother, an active and healthy woman, began feeling feverish, lethargic and complained of a headache. A trip to the emergency room after days of suffering from a persistent fever yielded nothing, and the doctors sent her home with some Tylenol and an order to rest.

Later that night, my grandfather awoke to anguished screams from my grandmother. He rushed to call 911 and as he waited for the ambulance to arrive he watched in agony as my grandmother cried and babbled incoherently on the floor next to their bed.

My grandmother was hospitalized for 32 days. For the first 20 or so the doctors couldn’t deduce the cause of her mysterious symptoms. Finally, after rounds of tests and antibiotics and scans, we had our diagnosis: West Nile virus. Continue reading

Why Mosquitoes Love Us and How We Can Fight Back

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Mosquitoes are especially attracted to pregnant women and people drinking alcohol. (Getty Images)

The state has confirmed the second West Nile virus case this year, and the Los Angeles Times reports that county officials say two adults are hospitalized there with the virus as well.

Every summer, West Nile moves across California, spread by mosquitoes. The insects pick up the virus when they feed on infected birds — then spread West Nile to humans when they munch on us.

“They will fly towards carbon dioxide, and so in a lot of cases in the backyard that’s you and me.”
Avoiding mosquito bites is ideal for lots of reasons besides West Nile. What repellents are best? And why do mosquitoes seem to prefer some people over others? NPR’s Shots blog posed those questions and more to Dr. Roger Nasci, chief of the branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that tracks insect-borne viruses. Here’s the Shots Q&A: Continue reading