Three scrub jays found dead in the Galt area tested positive for the West Nile virus, confirming the first case of a disease potentially fatal to humans in Sacramento County, health officials have reported.

The California scrub jay (Aphelocoma californica) is a species of scrub jay native to western North America whose range is from southern British Columbia to all of California then western Nevada near Reno to west of the Sierra Nevada. 

Galt City (2010 population: 23,647) is part of the Sacramento County metropolitan area.  

The case of the nesting scrub jays was first reported by the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District officials on May 26. They said birds like crows, magpies, and scrub jays are especially susceptible to the virus, noting that the discovery of the birds with West Nile virus is a "good reminder" for people that the virus is present in the area.

"Finding the first indication of West Nile activity is always significant because it provides an early warning," said Gary Goodman, district manager of the vector control district, as reported by local news outlet CBS 13 Sacramento.

Vector control officials also warned the public not to touch dead birds and instead contact the hotline of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), (877) 968-2473.

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The West Nile Virus

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the West Nile virus remains the "leading cause of mosquito-borne disease" across the continental United States. As a vector-borne disease, it is transmitted to humans through mosquito bites and is usually seasonal, coinciding with the insects' breeding period.

There is no vaccine to prevent the West Nile virus disease and there is no specific medication for treatment. Only 20 percent or one in every five people infected with the virus shows symptoms like fever. However, although rare, about one in every 150 infected people develop a more serious and potentially fatal disease.

Personal protective measures is recommended to reduce the risks of contracting the West Nile virus, according to the CDC. It involves the use of insect repellants registered with the Environmental Protection Agency. These  EPA-approved products are safe and effective, even for breastfeeding and pregnant women. Wearing clothing that covers the length of the arms and legs provides additional protection.

Mosquito Abatement Continues In Bay Area As West Nile Cases In US ON Rise
(Photo: Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
BRENTWOOD, CA - AUGUST 23: Technicians with the Contra Costa County Mosquito and Vector Control District drive a truck through a neighborhood fogging with Pyrocide 7396 insecticide on August 23, 2012, in Brentwood, California. In the wake of the largest outbreak of the West Nile Virus in U.S. history, the Contra Costa County Mosquito and Vector Control is fogging areas of the county that have seen a spike in numbers of mosquitoes carrying the West Nile Virus. More than 1,100 people in the United States have been infected with West Nile and 41 people have died. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

About one in five people who are infected develop a fever with other symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. Most people with this type of West Nile virus disease recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months.

About one in 150 people who are infected develop a severe illness affecting the central nervous system such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord). About 1 out of 10  people who develop severe illness affecting the central nervous system die.

The Persistence of West Nile in California

The West Nile virus was first detected in the United States in 1999 and has spread throughout the continental USA over the following years. A separate CDC report shows that as of January 5, 2021, 44 American states have reported cases of West Nile virus from people, birds like scrub jays, and mosquitoes. California is among the states with reported cases of human transmissions. 

The Golden State has launched its California Arbovirus Surveillance Program more than five decades ago with the aim of tracking endemic encephalitides or inflammation of the brain in the state. This program was expanded in 2000 to include cases of West Nile virus among humans, birds, and mosquitoes. A recent study, published last November in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases examined the persistence and growth of West Nile virus cases in California. The study covered the period from 2003 to 2018. Some 6,909 human cases, including 326 deaths, have been reported to the CDPH for the duration of the study.


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