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May 25, 2004 > West Nile Virus - A Potential Epidemic?

West Nile Virus - A Potential Epidemic?

What is it? How can it be avoided?

by Jeremy Inman

At the Union City City Council Meeting on Tuesday, May 11, John R. Rusmisel, the Manager of the Alameda County Mosquito Abatement District, voiced his organization's growing concerns considering the West Nile Virus and the Bay Area. He was able to clarify some of the specifics involving the disease, and what the general public can do to protect themselves.

The West Nile Virus was first isolated in West Niles, Uganda in 1937. It is primarily a mosquito-borne virus found in parts of Asia, eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. In 1999, the virus was first detected in the United States in New York City. Recently, it surfaced in southern California. By the end of 2001, 28 different states have reported the presence of West Nile Virus. The virus is expected to move further west in the near future.

Most people who become infected with the West Nile Virus show no symptoms. However, serious cases can range from influenza-like symptoms, mild skin rash, and swollen lymph nodes to an inflammation of the brain known as encephalitis. The West Nile Virus has an incubation period of 5-15 days, meaning that a person who is bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus can expect symptoms to occur within that time period. An estimated 1 out of 150 people infected will need to be hospitalized. In the U.S. in 2001, the West Nile Virus caused nine deaths or 14% of the 66 overall reported cases in the U.S. for that year.

West Nile Virus is transmitted primarily by mosquitoes. A mosquito acquires the virus by drinking the blood of an infected bird, and can then spread through contact with its saliva. The virus has been discovered in humans, insects, birds, and horses. Birds and insects are capable of spreading infection, while humans and horses are considered to be "dead end" vectors, meaning that they can contract the virus without spreading it.

There are certain factors to be aware of when considering West Nile Virus. It's important to remember that the primary vector of the West Nile Virus is the mosquito. To minimize the chance of infection, eliminate sources of standing water, where mosquitoes are likely to live and breed. Examples of sources of standing water can range from untended pools, buckets, clogged gutters, tarpaulins, and basically anything that would allow water to gather and stagnate. Property with water-based aesthetic enhancements such as ponds or manmade creeks should be populated with at least one mosquito fish, which can be acquired, free of charge, from the Alameda County Mosquito Abatement District (see end of article for phone number).

Check window and door screens for tears, and avoid leaving lights on near open doorways. Be aware, the most active time for a mosquito is at sunup or sundown, especially from the months of May to October. Wear plenty of mosquito repellant when outdoors at these times. It is also important to be wary of dead birds. Common vectors are crows, ravens, jays, magpies, hawks, owls, sparrows, and finches. The Mosquito Abatement District has a number for reporting dead birds. It is important notify authorities since they will collect the specimen for testing (see end of article for number to report dead birds).

West Nile Virus is a fairly inconsequential virus at this point, but it has the potential to become a serious epidemic. It's important to adhere to some simple safety requirements, and to use the resources and information provided by the Alameda County Mosquito Abatement District.

To Report Dead Birds:
Call 877-WNV-BIRD (877-968-2473)

For more information or to acquire a free mosquito fish:
Call 510-783-7744 or visit the web at


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