Orange County’s animal-disease trackers have turned up the first batch of mosquitoes to test positive for West Nile virus this season — the earliest they’ve picked up the virus in mosquitoes since West Nile arrived in Orange County in 2003.
The batch of mosquitoes was found in east Orange last week, said Michael Hearst, spokesman for the Orange County Vector Control District; test results came in Tuesday.
These days, however, such news is a bit anticlimactic. The virus, which often kills birds and can bring a range of symptoms in humans, is known to thrive in the county’s bird and mosquito populations. And the first birds found to be killed by West Nile virus this season turned up in February.
“This doesn’t change anything,” Hearst said, although the mosquitoes were picked up three weeks sooner than in previous seasons. “It’s just a reminder to people that it’s still here to worry about.”
The early detection, he said, could be the result of better tracking and sampling on the part of Vector Control, rather than any change in the prevalence of the virus.
Most people experience no symptoms when they contract West Nile; some have mild, flu-like symptoms, and a few, especially the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, can suffer more serious effects. For some of these, the virus can be fatal.
Last year, Orange County recorded three West Nile virus deaths.
West Nile is transmitted by mosquitoes to birds, humans and other creatures; disease trackers draw blood samples from wild birds as well as grinding up batches of mosquitoes and testing them.
Hearst said he hopes the latest find will encourage Orange County residents to take precautions: use insect repellent, make sure window screens are in good repair, dump out any standing water in the yard, and report standing water to Vector Control, such as stagnant pools left behind after home foreclosures.
He also asks that frustrated residents avoid trying to cure the problem themselves — for example, by throwing bleach into stagnant pools. The bleach has little effect on mosquitoes, but often kills the mosquito fish placed in the pools by Vector Control technicians to devour mosquito larvae.
(AP file photo of mosquito.)