Health

Hawk in Ramona Tests Positive for West Nile Virus

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A dead Cooper’s hawk found in Ramona has tested positive for West Nile virus, prompting County environmental health officials to remind people to protect themselves from mosquitoes that can transmit the potentially deadly virus to people.

County officials said with summer-like temperatures still occurring in mid-November, people should continue to follow the County’s “Prevent, Protect, Report” guidelines, including finding and dumping out standing water around homes to keep mosquitoes from breeding.

The Cooper’s hawk found in Ramona was just the second dead bird to test positive for the virus in San Diego County this year. Two county residents have tested positive for the virus this year, but it was determined both people were bitten and contracted the virus in other counties.

However, West Nile virus remains a potentially deadly threat. Statewide, 184 people have become sick from the virus in 2019 and five people have died. Just four years ago, in 2015, 44 San Diego County residents tested positive for West Nile virus and six county residents died.

West Nile virus is mainly a bird disease, but it can be transmitted to humans by a number of species of mosquitoes — including Culex mosquitoes native to San Diego and, less effectively, by invasive Aedes aegypti mosquitoes — if they feed off an infected animal, mainly birds, and then bite people.

If people who become infected suffer symptoms, they are typically mild, including headache, fever, nausea, fatigue, skin rash or swollen glands. But in rare cases, West Nile virus can make people extremely ill and even kill them.

New Mosquito-Borne Illness Worries

Protecting against mosquitoes has become even more important for San Diego County residents in recent years. Since 2014, three types of day-biting, invasive Aedes mosquitoes have been found in San Diego County. All of these mosquitoes like to live and breed near people, in yards and even inside homes. All of them can potentially transmit diseases not naturally found here. Two of these species can potentially transmit chikungunya, dengue and Zika — but only if they first bite an infected person. In general, that means local invasive Aedes mosquitoes could only transmit those diseases if they found, and bit, San Diego County residents who got the disease while traveling and returned home still infected.

County officials reiterated that people should help protect themselves from mosquitoes and potential illnesses by following the County’s “Prevent, Protect, Report” guidelines.

Prevent mosquito breeding

Dump out or remove any item inside or outside of homes that can hold water, such as plant saucers, rain gutters, buckets, garbage cans, toys, old tires, and wheelbarrows. Mosquito fish, available for free by contacting the Vector Control Program, may be used to control mosquito breeding in backyard water sources such as stagnant swimming pools, ponds, fountains and horse troughs.

Protect yourself from mosquito bites

Protect yourself from mosquito-borne illnesses by wearing long sleeves and pants or use insect repellent when outdoors. Use insect repellent that contains DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535. Make sure screens on windows and doors are in good condition and secured to keep insects out.

Report possible mosquito activity and dead birds

Report increased mosquito activity, or stagnant, green swimming pools and other mosquito-breeding sources, as well as dead birds — dead crows, ravens, jays, hawks and owls — to environmental health’s Vector Control Program by calling (858) 694-2888 or emailing vector@sdcounty.ca.gov. Also report if you are being bitten by mosquitoes during daylight hours, or if you find mosquitoes that look like invasive Aedes mosquitoes — small, black with white stripes on legs and backs — by contacting the Vector Control Program at (858) 694-2888.

For more information about mosquito-borne illnesses, go to San Diego County’s “Fight the Bite” website.

Here are some tips to help keep your yard from becoming a mosquito breeding ground.

Gig Conaughton is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact