The Mosquito and Vector Management District of Santa Barbara County announced the beginning of West Nile virus season in the county following a winter of heavy rains.

Although the California Public Health Dept.’s weekly statement indicates that seven birds have reportedly died from West Nile and three mosquito samples have been found to contain the virus so far this year, no reported human cases have occurred in California in 2011. The district is an independent agency responsible for monitoring and addressing disease-carrying insects and rodents within the county.

According to MVMDSBC Biologist Kenneth Learned, the disease primarily spreads between birds during the summer season.

“Everywhere in North America there’s a risk of West Nile, but in particular, anywhere with a big mosquito population is especially at risk, including Santa Barbara,” Learned said. “In addition, birds are the primary targets of the West Nile virus and this year, the birds’ immunity to the virus has been largely lost, so it’s ripe for a new wave to spread.”

Learned said the UCSB community faces greater risk of contracting the virus due to the campus’ favorable conditions for mosquito breeding.

“UCSB is surrounded by wetlands,” Learned said. “That means a lot of mosquitoes during the summer season and the potential for the spread of mosquitoes with the virus.”

Learned said students should report dead birds for proper removal and use mosquito repellents to limit their exposure to the virus.

According to the Center for Disease and Control’s fact sheet, people can develop symptoms of the virus — including strong headaches and confusion — within three to 14 days. Learned said people should seek immediate medical assistance if they experience severe indications of the virus.

“A lot of the people that get it have almost no symptoms,” Learned said. “In some people, the symptoms might be flu-like. But in other people, especially those over 50, it can present severe symptoms such as paralysis of arms and legs and also death.”

The State and MVMDSBC hotline for West Nile virus is 877-WNV-BIRD.