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Ventura County Prepares for Virus

Health officials begin to distribute information to doctors as West Nile moves into the state.

August 22, 2003|From a Times Staff Writer

Public health officials are preparing for the inevitable arrival of West Nile virus in Ventura County by providing information about the disease to area doctors, the county's chief health officer said Thursday.

State health officials discovered the disease in California this week when the West Nile virus was detected in mosquitoes and sentinel chickens near the Salton Sea. Dr. Robert Levin, Ventura County's health officer, said it was only a matter of time until it spread to the area.

"It should be expected that [the virus] will enter Ventura County at some point," Levin said in a statement. "Ventura County Public Health has been preparing for the arrival ... through augmentation of its communicable disease investigation capabilities, as well as through educational and informational outreach to the county's more than 1,300 personal physicians."

West Nile infects birds, mainly crows and ravens. Mosquitoes become carriers by biting infected birds, then pass the virus along to humans.

Only 20% of people bitten by infected mosquitoes become ill, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They usually experience only mild symptoms of fever, headache and body aches, though a few may develop serious illnesses such as encephalitis or meningitis. The elderly appear to be the most vulnerable.

The public can help in the monitoring effort, officials said, by reporting birds that may have been dead for less than 48 hours to a special state hotline: 877-WNV-BIRD (877-968-2473). The tissue of dead birds will be tested for the virus.

Because horses are also susceptible to West Nile, horse owners are being advised to contact their veterinarians about vaccinations.

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