Susan Buckley, RN, Director, Public Health
Ira Singh, MPH, Deputy Director
Donald I. Baird, MD, Health Officer

Division of Environmental Health


Date Released: 2/28/2005
Subject: First West Nile Virus Bird in Humboldt in 2005
Contact: Brent Whitener, Vector Control Officer
Phone: (707) 445-6215

West Nile Virus Confirmed in Ferndale House Sparrow

A house sparrow found near Ferndale has tested positive for West Nile Virus (WNV), the first local indication of the virus this year. Sixteen birds submitted from Humboldt tested positive for WNV during 2004, although no human or horse cases were reported in the county last year. Humboldt County joins Contra Costa, Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma Counties in finding infected dead birds thus far this year.

“The sparrow may have been infected last year, since the mosquitoes that transmit WNV will not emerge until later this spring. However, we can expect to see more signs of viral activity since West Nile has established itself firmly in our local biology” according to Brent Whitener, Vector Control Officer at Humboldt County’s Environmental Health Division. The bird was tested as one phase of the ongoing West Nile Virus surveillance efforts conducted by the Environmental Health Division.

West Nile Virus is a mosquito borne disease that principally affects birds, but can be passed to humans and horses. Residents can assist in surveillance efforts by reporting dead birds to the California state WNV hot line number at 1-877-WNV-BIRD (1-877-968-2473) in Richmond. If hot line staff determine that the bird is suitable, then Humboldt County Environmental Health Division is directed to pick up the specimen and ship it to UC Davis for WNV testing. The WNV hot line received over 90,000 calls from Californians last year.

Other steps residents can take to help protect themselves and family members from mosquitoes and disease like West Nile Virus include:

Removing likely mosquito breeding sites from around the home. Beginning about May 1st, buckets,
boats, tires, wading pools, and bird baths should be emptied or have the water changed every ten days. Stock owners may introduce goldfish into watering troughs as a means of control. An untended white bucket with five inches of water is capable of producing about two hundred mosquitoes every three weeks. Humboldt residents are urged to empty the water or “Kick the bucket” and remove these breeding sources from around the home, business, farm, or ranch.

Horse owners should consult with their vets about vaccinating their horses against WNV. Two
vaccines are now available, and annual booster shots are recommended about five months before the summer mosquito season. Over five hundred horses contracted WNV in California last year. The vast majority had an incomplete vaccination history for WNV.

In areas where mosquito activity occurs, residents are encouraged to “Fight the bite”. Limit activities
outdoors at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active. If the weather permits, wear long sleeved shirts and long pants to help protect areas of exposed skin.

Use of mosquito repellant is strongly encouraged as the best measure to protect yourselves and
family members. Follow label directions and plan to wash or shower at the end of the day to prevent a build up of repellant on the skin. Most repellants contain an active ingredient called DEET, which can offer hours of protection. Products with a mixture of sunscreen and repellant may not be the best choice since most users will reapply sunscreen often when repellant usually only requires one daily application.

More information is available on Humboldt County Public Health’s local web site located at by clicking on the West Nile Virus bar. A state web site at gives comprehensive data and maps for the entire state. Any questions about WNV, pond management, or to report a concentration of mosquitoes can be directed to the Environmental Health Division at (707) 445-6215 or toll free at 800-963-9241.


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