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Officials issue warning after detecting mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus in major county: 'We urge everyone to protect themselves'

"This early detection serves as a critical reminder for all residents."

"This early detection serves as a critical reminder for all residents."

Photo Credit: iStock

Officials have discovered mosquitoes in Los Angeles County carrying West Nile virus and are urging residents to take precautionary measures. 

What's happening?

The Los Angeles Times reported June 1 that a trap in the Winnetka neighborhood contained mosquitoes that tested positive for West Nile. 

West Nile has been on the rise in the Golden State, according to data cited by the Times from the California Mosquito-Borne Virus Surveillance and Response Program.

From 2013 to 2023, the number of mosquitoes detected with the virus increased by around 78%. This year, 25 samplings have contained mosquitoes with the virus — 20 more than around the same time in 2023. More than 70% of the infected mosquitoes were from Riverside County.

Meanwhile, California has found 17 dead birds with West Nile compared to 14 last year. 

Why is this concerning?

While the World Health Organization notes that around 80% of people infected with West Nile are asymptomatic, the virus can cause severe complications, including fatal neurological disease. People over 50 and with compromised immune systems are most at risk.

According to the Times, experts believe that record-breaking rainfall in California could lead to large numbers of mosquitoes in 2024, as well as an uptick in West Nile. 

Earlier this year, powerful storms swept across parts of the West Coast, causing power outages and life-threatening floods and mudslides. 

Extreme weather events like these have become more frequent and severe as temperatures have risen globally, and they can make conditions more favorable for the spread of disease

Warmer weather also makes it easier for mosquitoes to reproduce, increase their range to previously unlivable areas, and emerge earlier in the year. In Michigan, for example, mosquito season was underway in February after a mild winter. 

What can be done about West Nile?

Steve Vetrone, Director of Scientific-Technical Services for the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District, shared practical ways for the LA area to protect itself from the virus. 

"While the presence of West Nile Virus in our community is not unusual, this early detection serves as a critical reminder for all residents to take preventative actions," he said in a statement. "We urge everyone to protect themselves from mosquito bites and to eliminate standing water around their homes where mosquitoes can breed."

On its website, the GLACVCD also recommends changing standing water in bird baths and outdoor pet dishes weekly and properly maintaining pools and decorative ponds, the latter of which can be filled with mosquitofish — a natural, non-chemical method of pest control

There isn't a human vaccine for West Nile, but wearing insect repellent and long sleeves and pants can help protect against mosquito bites. 

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