Mosquitoes in Santa Barbara take a look at optimistic for West Nile virus

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The presence of Culex quinquefasciatus was reconfirmed three years after its first discovery by the Santa Barbara County’s Mosquito and Vector Management District. The mosquitoes later tested positive for the West Nile virus.

Culex quinquefasciatus mosquito full of blood. Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly known as southern house mosquitoes, these mosquitos were discovered in traps for another invasive species of mosquito that Aedes aegypti discovered in early October. These traps were set in a house in Santa Barbara near the intersection of North La Cumbre Road and Foothill Road.

Brian J. Cabrera, general manager of Santa Barbara County’s Mosquito and Vector Management District, said the mosquitoes likely ingested West Nile virus from infected birds, which they tend to feed on. Carrier mosquitoes can transmit the virus to humans, according to Cabrera – but don’t panic.

“It’s not an imminent threat, but we should stay vigilant,” said Cabrera. “West Nile virus-caused disease or diseases affect only a small percentage of people who actually get the virus from a mosquito bite.”

Cabrera said that 80% of those infected experience no symptoms at all. Those who get sick will get a fever, headache, rashes, and nausea. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 1% of West Nile virus cases are fatal, with the elderly and otherwise immunocompromised people being particularly at risk.

“[The resurgence of these mosquitoes] serves as a reminder that we should take the precautions not to catch the virus, especially given that some of the symptoms of West Nile virus may mimic or are similar to those of the coronavirus, “Cabrera said. “If a person gets sick and tests negative for coronavirus, maybe they should check to see if they have tested for West Nile virus.”

According to Cabrera, precautions against these mosquitoes include using mosquito repellants to avoid going outside in the morning and evening light – – when mosquito activity is highest – – and wear long sleeved shirts and pants. Santa Barbara County’s residents are also urged to remove stagnant water sources that may contain mosquito larvae and report any dead birds that may have been infected with the virus, particularly crows, ravens, jays and magpies.

“When the bird is firm enough, we pick up the dead bird and get a sample with a throat swab,” said Cabrera. “We send the sample off and analyze it for the presence of the virus.”

Dead birds can be reported to the California Department of Health’s Dead Bird Hotline at 1-877-968-2473. To date, seven birds have been reported to the SB Mosquito and Vector Management District.

Raising awareness among Santa Barbara County’s residents is of great importance to curb the spread of this species, according to Cabrera. If residents have problems with mosquitos, they are asked to call the district at 1-805-969-5050.

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