West Nile virus was detected in early October by sentinel chickens housed in Santa Ynez Valley by Santa Barbara County's Mosquito and Vector Management District.

A couple of animal-related diseases leapt into view in recent weeks. Multiple cases of distemper were found in wildlife — especially raccoons — both in the City of Santa Barbara and in South County areas. And four in a “sentinel” chicken flock near Solvang tested positive for West Nile virus.

The distemper virus is highly contagious to dogs — but not people — causing respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous-system symptoms. Affected raccoons appear to move slowly, stumble, or seem blind or confused. The virus is spread through bodily secretions, and unvaccinated domestic dogs can become infected. In addition to raccoons, canine distemper affects foxes, coyotes, skunks, weasels, ferrets and other carnivores. Call City Animal Control at (805) 963-1513 or County Animal Services at (805) 681-5285 if you spot a wild animal that seems affected.

A low-cost vaccine clinic for dogs takes place at Santa Barbara Eagles Lodge at 923 Bath Street, hosted by CARE4Paws, on Sunday, October 22, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Rabies, distemper, and other vaccines are offered.

A baseline blood sample is drawn from a chicken by Vector Control technician Royce Sharp and operations manager Kenneth Learned as the bird is added to Santa Barbara County's sentinel chicken flock, which helps detect mosquito-borne diseases.

Near the wastewater treatment plant in the Santa Ynez Valley, the county’s Mosquito and Vector Management District keeps a flock of “sentinel” chickens that are tested regularly for West Nile virus, among other mosquito-borne diseases. A positive result was found early in October, the first one for the year. West Nile can affect humans, as well as birds, horses, and other animals. Human-to-human transmission does not occur.

The people most at risk for serious effects of West Nile infection are the elderly and those with suppressed immune systems. Mild symptoms are fever, headache, and body aches for a few days, though many who are bit show no symptoms at all. In 18 California counties, 211 human cases have been reported this year, and eight have been fatal.

Vector Control is conducting mosquito management efforts near Solvang and advises residents to eliminate standing water, keep screens on windows, and wear long sleeves and pants outdoors, especially during dusk and dawn when the mosquitoes are most active. Veterinarians can vaccinate horses against the disease. There is currently no specific human vaccine for West Nile.


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