Several mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus have been found inhabiting pools of standing water countywide since the disease’s first discovery in Santa Barbara in 2004.
As of last week, the Santa Barbara Coastal Vector Control District has found 21 mosquito pools in Santa Barbara County containing West Nile virus, according to the UCSB Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) website. Of the pools, 16 were from the UCSB/Santa Barbara Airport boundary and five were from Lake Las Carneros, located along Los Carneros Road and Highway 101.
West Nile is a virus carried by mosquitoes that can give humans flu-like symptoms, and in some cases can be fatal, said Michele Mickiewicz, public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Public Health Dept.
Kevin Kaboli, UCSB Integrated Pest Management Committee (IPM) chair, said UCSB has a contract with the Vector Control District to test mosquitoes in the UCSB wetlands area and help control the mosquito population.
“They trap mosquitoes then only send the females to the Dept. of Health Lab and test the females over there for West Nile virus,” Kaboli said. “It’s only the females that bite.”
Mickiewicz said two human cases of the West Nile virus have occurred in Santa Barbara County since infected mosquitoes were first discovered in 2004. The first case, found in a 24-year-old male, was reported Aug. 30, and the second, was of a 56-year-old male who complained of flu-like symptoms on Aug. 15 and was hospitalized Sept. 15. Neither of the cases in Santa Barbara County have been fatal, Mickiewicz said.
Mickiewicz said approximately 85 percent of people who have West Nile virus show no symptoms of the virus, while 15 percent have mild symptoms. Less than 1 percent of the people infected with the virus have severe symptoms. She said 859 cases and 18 deaths due to the virus have been reported in California as of Oct. 18. However, mosquitoes become less active as the season changes into winter.
“As the weather gets colder, [West Nile] becomes less of an issue because mosquitoes get less active,” Mickiewicz said.
The county Public Health Dept. monitors the spread of West Nile by testing dead birds and horses, Mickiewicz said. The EHS website said six horses have tested positive for the virus as of Nov. 1, and three have died. Seventy dead birds, including crows, scrub jays, house finches, sparrows and magpies have also tested positive for the virus.
West Nile virus began in the U.S. between 2000-01 with an outbreak in the New England area, and then migrated west, Kaboli said. UCSB’s IPMC has had a proactive approach to controlling the mosquito population and containing the virus for the past three years, he said. UCSB has a $100,000 contract with the Vector Control District, which is responsible for inspecting, monitoring and treating all UCSB wetlands.
“It’s part of the responsibility and mission [of the committee] to mitigate mosquitoes around campus and campus wetlands,” Kaboli said.
Kaboli said the best way to prevent West Nile is to avoid mosquito bites. The EHS website also provides a list of techniques to prevent contracting West Nile. The list, available at www.ehs.ucsb.edu, includes suggestions such as eliminating contact with places where mosquitoes breed, putting screens on doors in houses, using mosquito repellent and wearing long sleeves, long pants and socks.
“We have been on top of the issue as far as control of the West Nile virus and control of the mosquito population,” Kaboli said.