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West Nile Arrives Early in O.C. Birds

June 05, 2004|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

Three birds found dead in Orange County had West Nile virus, bolstering fears of an early and arduous viral season to come, officials said Friday.

"We are prepared for a fairly serious epidemic of West Nile virus in Southern California," said Michael Hearst, a spokesman for Orange County Vector Control.

The birds -- a crow in Buena Park, a Western tanager in Santa Ana and a mockingbird in Tustin -- tested positive for West Nile in May, Hearst said, but it took several weeks for the state to conduct and return tests confirming the presence of the disease.

"It's the first time we've actually seen the virus in Orange County this year," he said, "and we're way ahead of schedule. Last year, nothing happened until August."

West Nile virus -- first seen in the United States in 1999 and spread largely by mosquitoes -- usually causes no symptoms or only mild ones in the people it infects. About one in every 150 infected people, however, develops a serious illness that can be fatal. "While it doesn't affect a lot of people," Hearst said, "it can seriously affect a few."

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