Even in drought, still worries over West Nile virus

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Experts are gearing up for the fight against West Nile virus. Even in a drought year, it's still a big worry.

The mosquito-borne virus could actually be more of a problem because of early, warm weather. And, there could be a long West Nile season ahead.

"Even thought it's a drought year, we still have mosquito breeding sources in back yards," Kern Mosquito Abatement District Manager Rob Quiring told Eyewitness News. "We have the nonmaintained swimming pools, and a ton of little wading pools that are not chlorinated."

West Nile is spread by mosquitoes that can pick up the virus from birds. The infected bugs can then spread the illness to people.

Kern's worst year was 2007, according to Quiring. He said 140 local people got the illness that year, and four died. Last year, 25 local human cases were reported, with one fatality.

The mosquito district has a large number of traps set out, and mosquitoes caught are checked for WNV.

"We haven't found any West Nile in mosquito samples or in dead birds," Quiring said on Monday.

But, they have found plenty of trouble spots.

Quiring said more than 600 problem swimming pools have already been identified and treated.

Planes are sent up to look for pools that appear to have standing water. Quiring said those pools are then treated with chemicals or mosquito-eating fish, and usually with both.

This year's first aerial survey was done in April, according to Quiring. He said another will be done in July and again in September.

Other backyard problem areas can be ornamental ponds and fountains. They also worry about water standing in livestock troughs.

Meanwhile, mosquito district crews are also treating large areas like storm drain sumps, catch basins and gutters that collect standing water.

As in past years, experts stress the "three Ds."

Drain standing water. Use extra precautions against mosquito bites at dawn and dusk. And, use insect repellent that contains DEET.

And, that's the advice even in a drought year.

So far there have been no signs of infected birds or mosquitoes, but Quiring said it's not likely Kern will see no West Nile Virus this year.

"We're never that lucky," Quiring said. "We're never that lucky."