West Nile virus found in Bird Rock crow

By Laura Petersen, Amy Lynne Bowes

The West Nile virus, a disease found in birds that via mosquitoes can transfer to humans, was recently found in a dead crow in the Bird Rock area.

According to the county of San Diego Vector Control Program Web site, the crow was found on Beaumont Avenue in Bird Rock on July 11 and tested positive July 16 for the West Nile virus.

“I found him (the bird) outside my house in the cul de sac,” said Bird Rock resident Cyndi Haskett, “You’re supposed to call the city, and they have a number to online.”

Within a couple of hours, a worker from the county came to get the bird. He told Haskett the county would let her know if it tested positive for West Nile virus.

When Haskett found out the crow did test positive with the West Nile virus, she informed her neighbors and made sure she didn’t have standing water around her home.

According to Vector Control Web site, which has reports dating back to 2004, a previous case of West Nile virus in La Jolla was detected Sept. 28, 2007, in an American crow.

“We’re actively searching for the source of mosquitoes and treating the sources,” Kerry McNeill, program manager of the county of San Diego Vector Control Program, said. “Abandoned and unmaintained homes with pools are a large part of the problem.”

Vector Control has helicopters fly over the county looking for green, unmaintained pools. They then use funds from benefit assessment fees to treat the pools.

“We all need to behave appropriately…when you go outside in the evening…or garden in the early morning hours, wear repellent,” McNeill said.

Health officials say the disease is spreading throughout the county much faster this year than in years past and county officials are encouraging the public to take precautions to prevent mosquito breeding and bites.

By mid-July, 96 dead birds tested positive for the virus, as compared with only six by the same time last year. Eleven of those birds were found in Carmel Valley, Del Mar, Solana Beach and Rancho Santa Fe. Just one has been found in La Jolla.

One human case has been reported in San Diego County so far this year.

“I have never seen it ramp up this fast,” said Chris Conlan, vector ecologist with County Vector Control. “Anytime we see elevated activity it’s a definite concern. All residents should be taking precautions.”

The most important action residents can take is to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in their own backyards.

Any standing water, even a few tablespoons, could become a breeding ground after a few days. Residents are advised to dump out water collected in anything from potted plants and saucers, rain gutters, buckets and trash cans, to children’s toys, garden tools and wheelbarrows. Water in small bird fountains should be completely flushed once a week, not just topped off.

Mosquito fish, while in tight supply, are still available for free to control larger water sources such as ponds, fountains, horse troughs and unused swimming pools.

Last year, backyard-breeding sources were linked with all 15 human cases of locally acquired West Nile virus, Conlan said.

Residents can protect themselves from mosquito bites by wearing insect repellent, staying indoors when mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn, and repairing any holes in screen doors and windows.

West Nile virus, common in Africa, West Asia and the Middle East, first appeared on the U.S. East Coast in 1999 and spread across the nation appearing in California in 2003. Since 2004, 2,320 human cases of West Nile have been reported throughout the state. Of those, 76 were fatal.

There is no treatment for the virus; however, less than 1 percent of individuals infected develop severe symptoms such as disorientation, coma, convulsions, vision loss, numbness and paralysis.

About 80 percent of humans infected with the virus will not even know they have it, experiencing no symptoms.

The remainder experience mild symptoms that last for a few days, such as fever, headaches, nausea and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. Symptoms typically appear three to 14 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

People over 50 and individuals with a preexisting health condition or a compromised immune system are at the greatest risk of getting sick from the virus.

Many species of wild birds are infected, but can survive the virus. However, crows, ravens, jays and hawks are highly susceptible and make up the bulk of the reported bird deaths.

Residents can report dead birds to County Vector Control, and personnel will come collect the bird. Birds must have died within the past 24 hours, be intact and not covered in ants. Though the virus cannot be spread through contact with the bird, residents are advised to not touch or move the bird unless necessary.

Mosquitoes breed during the warmer months, and the hotter it is, the faster they hatch. Only a few types of mosquitoes carry the West Nile virus, and while mosquitoes don’t usually travel far, birds do. That’s why all residents, no matter where they live, need to take warnings about West Nile seriously, Conlan said.

“The flu kills more people, but this is a very preventable disease by taking certain precautions,” he said.

The virus has not been around long enough to determine any patterns associated with it, Conlan said. However, the number of birds testing positive this year is already poised to surpass last year’s total, 118, which were mostly reported in August and September.

“Normally, I am not very alarmist,” Conlan said. “We have to go with prepare for the worst, hope for the best.”

To report a dead bird or request mosquito fish call County Vector Control at (858) 694-2888. For more information, go to