Santa Barbara Countyite Contracts West Nile Virus

California’s First Human Case of 2011 Hits Close to Home

An individual from Santa Barbara County has contracted West Nile virus, becoming California’s first human case of the once-dreaded disease in all of 2011. No information of the victim’s gender or age will be released to protect his or her identity, although the person is from “mid county,” according to Susan Klein-Rothschild, the spokesperson for the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.

“This is the first human case in California this year, and I believe there’s only nine cases in the whole country,” said Klein-Rothschild. “It’s not a common thing in humans.”

But she did admit that the virus may affect others who fight it off before having to go to the doctor. “People may get very mild cases and not even know,” said Klein-Rothschild. “It’s like a lot of things: For some people it becomes more severe.” This particular victim was sick enough to require specialized testing, which is how the virus was discovered.

The California Department of Public Health also issued a statewide press release on the matter. “With the first confirmed human illness from West Nile virus this year, we are intensifying our surveillance for the virus with the help of all counties,” said the department’s chief deputy director Kathleen Billingsley in the statement, which noted that the virus has so far been detected in 14 other counties. “To protect against West Nile virus, the most important step people can take is avoiding mosquito bites.”

That advice was reiterated by Klein-Rothschild, who explained, “West Nile virus is seen more in the summer, so just like we ask people to use sunscreen, it’s just another thing to remember: If you’re going out, do things to avoid mosquito bites.” Luckily, she said, that’s something we all try to avoid anyway, but she said the public should be more aware around bodies of water that attract the blood-sucking insects. Specifically, the reminder says to avoid being outside at dawn and dusk when the bugs are most active, wear long sleeves and pants when outdoors, use insect repellent, make sure your doors and windows have tight screens, and rid your property of standing water.

Klein-Rothschild could not say whether the affected person was bitten while camping or at home, but that’s simply because it’s hard to know. “I don’t remember when I got bit, though I might remember when I start scratching myself,” said Klein-Rothschild. “That’s why it’s so difficult to pin down.”

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