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Orange County

Battling West Nile With Answers

At a town hall meeting in Fullerton, officials explain the virus and how to prevent its spread.

August 14, 2004|Erin Ailworth | Times Staff Writer

Health officials and local politicians held an informational session Friday to assuage any anxiety Orange County residents may have about contracting West Nile virus.

To date six human cases of the disease, which is spread by mosquitoes, have been reported in Orange County; one man has died.

About 80 people attended the town hall meeting at Fullerton Public Library.

Questions focused on concerns about where mosquitoes breed, the pesticide used to kill them, and state and county efforts to stem the spread of West Nile.

Health experts detailed the symptoms: fever, headache, rash and unusual fatigue. And though only about 1% of those infected will become seriously ill, caution was emphasized.

"Do everything you can to reduce your exposure to mosquito bites," said Dr. Michele Cheung, an epidemiologist with the county.

Officials advised the crowd to wear repellents containing DEET, dress in long sleeves and pants, and avoid being out at peak mosquito hours -- dawn and dusk.

Residents also were asked to rid their yards of any standing water, even if it's just a few tablespoons in the bottom of a flower pot, at least once a week. About 50% of the county's mosquitoes come from such breeding grounds, Michael Hearst of the Orange County Vector Control District said.

The district already has a team treating areas where standing water regularly collects or has been reported.

Mission Viejo resident Walter J. Ekwert Jr. attended the meeting to learn about such efforts.

"What worries me the most is becoming infected," said the 70-year-old. "That's why people are here. They are worried about their families."

But not everyone was overly concerned.

"When you step back and look at the overall problem of getting a serious case [of West Nile], there are better things to worry about," said Larry Jaeger, 58, of Fullerton. "That is why I will not be wearing DEET, I will be getting mosquito bites."

According to health officials, once a person has been infected they are naturally inoculated against the disease.

But they did not recommend that people at low risk for the disease go around unprotected.

"There is a chance that you would develop a more severe illness, so why take a chance?" Dr. Ben Sun of the California Department of Health Services said.

Anyone who would like to learn more about West Nile can visit www.westnile.ca.gov or call (877) WNV-BIRD.

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