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Horse Health Alert - California Birds Test Positive for West Nile Virus

Horse Health Press Release

Orange County, Calif., Vector Control District (OCVCD) biologists have found antibodies to West Nile virus (WNV) in two adult female house finches. The birds were trapped as part of the District's wild bird trapping program which involves trapping and releasing dozens of wild birds each week after drawing a small blood sample. The two birds were bled on March 2, 2004, and tested at the District lab in Garden Grove. One of the birds was also trapped and sampled on Feb. 18, 2004 and showed no antibodies at that time.

"This evidence is an indication that active virus transmission has already begun in the county. Our wild bird bleeding program is an early warning system that alerts us to virus activity prior to any human cases" stated James P. Webb PhD, OCVCD Technical Director.

West Nile virus is carried by birds and is passed on to mosquitoes when they feed on an infected bird. The disease can then be transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito to humans or other animals. The disease usually goes unnoticed though a small percentage of the population will experience flu-like symptoms, and an even smaller percentage can become seriously ill; about 240 people died as a result of WNV in 2003.

Horses are particularly hard hit by WNV, mortality rates approach 40%, but there are two vaccines available, and horse owners are encouraged to have their animals vaccinated.

"The District's message of the shared responsibility has never been more relevant" offered newly appointed District Manager, Gerard Goedhart. "The District has been preparing for WNV since it was first discovered in New York in 1999, our level of mosquito control is excellent, it is the residential backyard sources that we need the public to help with. With over 700,000 backyards in the county, homeowner involvement is critical," Goedhart added.

The public is advised to dump any standing water they might find in their yards or work place; mosquitoes can develop in a week. Mosquito fish are available for no charge at the District for stocking ponds or out of service pools. It is advisable to wear long sleeves and long pants when outdoors at dusk and dawn, and use a repellent whenever in areas that may have mosquitoes.