Hawk Tests Positive for West Nile Virus

August 7, 2014 | 4:17pm

Two weeks after a Santee man became the first person in San Diego County in two years to be diagnosed with West Nile virus, County officials said Thursday that a dead hawk has tested positive for the disease.

The bird was found in an unincorporated part of El Cajon and was the second bird in San Diego County to test positive this year.

State officials, meanwhile, announced this week that California had suffered its first two human deaths from West Nile virus in 2014, an elderly woman from Sacramento County and a man from Shasta County.

San Diego County officials reminded people Thursday to protect themselves. West Nile virus is primarily transmitted to people by mosquitoes that feed on infected birds and then bite people.

“There are easy things that people can do to protect themselves,” said San Diego County Environmental Health Director Liz Pozzebon. “Use insect repellents; wear long-sleeved shirts and pants if you’re out at dusk.

“And remember,” Pozzebon said, “especially now after our recent rains — clear your yard and home of standing water where mosquitoes can breed.”

Most people who become infected with West Nile virus — eight out of 10 — won’t suffer any symptoms at all. In addition, most of the people who do get sick are likely to suffer only mild symptoms: headache, fever, nausea, fatigue, skin rash or swollen glands.

However, in rare cases — less than 1 percent — people can suffer severe neurologic problems that can be fatal.

The 43-year-old Santee man who was diagnosed two weeks ago with West Nile virus felt no symptoms and had no idea he had been infected until he had a routine blood screening when he tried to donate blood.

Pozzebon and environmental health officials urged people to protect themselves and others by practicing “Prevent, Protect, Report.”

Prevent mosquito breeding: Dump out or remove any backyard item that can hold water, such as plant saucers, rain gutters, buckets, garbage cans, toys, old tires and wheelbarrows. Mosquito fish, available for free from Vector Control, may be used to control mosquito breeding in backyard water sources such as neglected swimming pools, ponds, fountains and water troughs.

Protect yourself from mosquito bites and the virus: Stay inside when mosquitoes are most active, between dusk and dawn. Wear long sleeves and pants when outdoors. Use insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of eucalyptus or IR3535 when outside. Make sure screens on windows and doors are in good condition and secured.

Report dead birds — crows, ravens, jays, hawks and owls — and green, neglected swimming pools to the Vector Control Program at (858) 694-2888 or vector@sdcounty.ca.gov.

For more information about West Nile virus, go to San Diego County’s “Fight the Bite” website.