Virus-Spreading Mosquitos Confirmed Locally

Culex mosquitos like the one in the photo transmit West Nile and their local populations are on the rise. Photo Courtesy of Greater Los Angeles Vector Control District.

West Nile Virus is on the rise across Los Angeles with 208 reported cases this year according to Los Angeles public health officials. Vector control authorities said chickens and mosquitos in Los Feliz have tested positive for the virus in recent weeks.

With chickens testing positive for the virus, it is likely there have been human cases in the area as well, according to a spokesperson with the Greater Los Angeles Vector Control.

The virus often goes unreported as people who are infected often show no symptoms or mistake it for a bad case of the flu, according to officials.

“The numbers that we see reported are probably just the tip of the iceberg. It’s likely that there are hundreds more cases every year,” said Levy Sun, a spokesperson with Vector Control.

Symptoms often include fever, headache, body aches, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash, according to the Centers for Disease Control website.

Only one in five cases will show any symptoms at all, but people who are already sick with a chronic illness such as cancer and those older than 50 may be affected more severely by West Nile symptoms.

“We are currently in an epidemic for West Nile virus,” said Sun. “Contrary to pop culture and perhaps the current news definition of ‘epidemic,’ we’re just saying that this is above average for the year. It’s not something to really panic about, but it’s definitely a cause for concern.”

There have been more than 200 reported cases of humans infected with West Nile Virus in Los Angeles this year, up from 153 in 2016, according to the Los Angeles County Public Health Dept.

Sixteen deaths have been linked to West Nile in the county this year with victims’ ages mostly in the mid-60s. Only six West Nile deaths were reported in Los Angeles in 2016.

According to Sun, there are efforts by several agencies and organizations to prevent the spread of West Nile and reduce its effects, but people can protect themselves by using insect repellent when outdoors and removing standing water where mosquitos can reproduce.

“I’ve seen mosquito larvae swimming around in a little bit of water in a chip bag,” Sun said. “It could be anything from a bottle cap to a barrel.”

West Nile is a bird virus that often kills crows and aquatic birds, but chickens are uniquely able to produce antibodies to West Nile. Sun said this makes them ideal for testing.

“If we find chickens with anti-bodies for West Nile, there’s probably a good chance that there is at least one human case nearby,” said Sun.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell urged constituents in his district to take precautions in an announcement last month after mosquito and chicken cases were found in Los Feliz. At that time, O’Farrell said Atwater Village and Elysian Valley were also high-risk areas due to high mosquito populations in those areas.

“Environmental conditions this summer are perfect for mosquito survival and the virus has been identified throughout the Los Angeles area,” O’Farrell said in the announcement.

Vector control confirmed that warm fall conditions, like what Los Angeles has been experiencing, may allow mosquitos to thrive longer in large numbers.

The San Fernando Valley typically sees higher mosquito populations because of its warm climate. But local properties with a lot of lush vegetation and watering can create microclimates where mosquitos thrive, according to officials.

Conditions are not just ideal for the Culex mosquito species, which transmits West Nile—the Aedes mosquito, which transmits the Zika virus, has also seen population growth in Los Angeles in recent years according to vector control.

Aedes mosquitos, also according to vector control, have recently been spotted in Los Feliz, Echo Park and Atwater Village.

Public health officials said that while 13 cases of Zika have been reported in Los Angeles this year, in all of those cases patients came to the area already infected from outside the U.S.

While Zika has not been seen to be spreading through mosquito bites in Los Angeles, vector control officials said the growing population of Aedes mosquitos is something they are monitoring closely.

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