On the lookout for West Nile Virus in Malibu

Signs warning of the West Nile Virus have been posted throughout Malibu. The one above is posted at Las Flores Park. Laura Tate / TMT

Signs warning of the disease are posted throughout Malibu. Sick crows have been taken to a local wildlife center, but testing has not been done.

By Heidi Manteuffel/Special to The Malibu Times

A San Bernardino man was reported dead Monday, from the West Nile Virus. This year, 13 people in Los Angeles have been found positive with West Nile Virus and another man from Orange County died as well. In response, Los Angeles County Vector Control posted signs last week in parks and recreational areas, including in Malibu, warning residents that the West Nile Virus is quickly spreading in Los Angeles, and may already be present in Malibu.

“West Nile Virus is going to be in every area in Los Angeles county at least by the end of the summer,” said Robert Saviskas, executive director of West Vector Control.

WNV is transmitted to humans indirectly through infected birds, which is transmitted to humans via mosquitoes.

This year, there have been 602 dead infected birds reported in Los Angeles County, twice as many as the next recorded county, and 91 mosquito pools. These statistics and the large amount of state parks and natural refuge could make Malibu a hot spot for WNV breeding.

Cases of WNV reported in California went from three in 2003 to 65 this year.

“There is definitely a significantly elevated number of persons infected with West Nile Virus than in years before,” said Norma Arceo, spokesperson for California Department of Health Services. “We’re finding that all of a sudden the virus is spreading rapidly, and many times, unfortunately, can go undetected.”

Malibu Parks and Recreation Director Paul Adams said, “We’re trying to warn everybody that the disease is in Southern California and particularly in natural areas like we have in Malibu.”

Dr. Lynn Whited, director of the California Wildlife Center, said there were a couple of sick crows that came in from Malibu to the Wildlife Center that died, but unfortunately were not tested for West Nile.

WNV is not transferable from human to human, Arceo said, except through transmission of blood and organ transplants. Blood banks are testing for the disease and alerting individuals they find positive with the virus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most severe type of disease from infection with West Nile Virus is sometimes called a ” ‘neuroinvasive disease’ because it affects a person’s nervous system.” Neuroinvasive diseases include encephalitis, which causes inflammation of the brain, and meningitis, an inflammation of the membrane around the brain and the spinal cord. West Nile Fever is another type of illness that can be caused from infection of the virus. “It is characterized by fever, headache, tiredness, aches and sometimes rash. Although the illness can be as short as a few days, even healthy people have been sick for several weeks.”

Statistics have found that one in 150 people bit by a mosquito carrying the virus will have no symptoms, and less than 1 percent with WNV will become severely ill and require hospitalization. Once someone has recovered, they are immune for a period of time to the virus, but scientists are still researching the duration of this immunity.

Officials say it is also important to call in and/or dispose of dead birds so that WNV is not transmitted further from mosquitoes biting dead birds. Calls about birds can be made to West Vector Control at 877.WNV.BIRD. Birds of concern are birds of prey, such as crows, hawks or owls. It is important to call within eight to 12 hours of finding the bird dead, since, Saviskas said, this is the time period in which the birds can be tested for West Nile Virus. After 24 hours, they are unable to test for the disease.

If a pick-up is not arranged, you should dispose of the bird yourself. You can do this by using an inverted garbage bag so that your hand does not make direct contact with the bird while disposing it in a trashcan. Dr. Whited said one cannot become infected by merely touching the bird, unless a person comes into contact with its blood, as happened to one man while cutting up a bird he had hunted.

There is a vaccine against WNV available to horses, but nothing yet for humans. Arceo said that the approval process for human vaccinations takes longer, and the WNV does not respond to regular antibiotics.

According to the California Department of Health Services, WNV is a mosquito-born disease that is common in Africa, West Asia and the Middle East. It was first detected in the U.S in 1999, and since then has spread to 44 states.


€ Wear insect repellent that contains the chemical DEET (check cans-they vary in percent and effectiveness.)

€ Wear long clothing, closed-toe shoes and hats to cut down possibility of insect bites.

€ Stay out of natural areas in early morning and late evening (especially two hours after sunset), when the susceptibility of a bite is highest.

€ Make sure all doors and windows in your home have tight-fitting screens.

€ Get rid of sources of standing water.

€ Call in dead birds to West Vector Control at 877.WNV.BIRD or fill out an online form at http://westnile.ca.gov/deadbird.cfm.

More information about the WNV can be found at the Centers for Disease Control

and Prevention Web site: