Mosquitoes carrying the West Nile Virus have been identified in Los Angeles County for the first time this year. While officials confirmed that this is not unusual, residents should start taking precautions against mosquito bites during any outdoor activities starting now.

“While the presence of West Nile Virus in our community is not unusual, this early detection serves as a critical reminder for all residents to take preventative actions,” said Steve Vetrone, the director of scientific and technical services at the vector control district, in a prepared statement. “We urge everyone to protect themselves from mosquito bites and to eliminate standing water around their homes where mosquitoes can breed.”

The mosquitoes carrying the virus were found in the Winnetka neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley by the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District. The state has collected 25 samples of mosquitoes carrying the virus so far this year, up from five at the same time last year. Eighteen of those samples were collected in Riverside County. Because there is no vaccine for the virus, it is imperative that residents of the neighboring Los Angeles County are prepared to evade mosquitoes. The main spreader of the virus in California is the culex mosquito, which becomes infected by feeding on the blood of birds. It is most commonly spread to humans through mosquito bites. 

People who are over 60 years old have a higher risk of complications from the virus, so those in that category should take extra precautions. About 20% of people infected with West Nile virus have symptoms, including fevers, headaches, body aches, nausea, skin rashes, and fatigue. Most people show no symptoms at all. Only in rare cases can complications like infection lead to serious brain and spinal cord inflammation. 

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Last year, 461 cases of West Nile were reported in humans in California, 19 of which were fatal, according to the California Mosquito-Borne Virus Surveillance and Response Program. The program reported that the number of mosquitoes carrying West Nile in California has risen approximately 78% over the past decade. The number of dead birds carrying the virus has also increased this year, up to 17 from 14 at the same time last year. 

The high rainfall this winter in California could lead to a boom in the mosquito population in the region, making it more important than ever for Californians to take mosquito protection seriously. Public health officials recommend using insect repellent and wearing long sleeves and pants in areas with a high number of mosquitoes. Insect repellents with the active ingredients DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus are the most effective, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The insects breed in standing water, so avoiding being near standing water and emptying rain gutters, buckets, and planters on your property will help reduce risk. You can also report neglected swimming pools with green water to the local vector control district for treatment. Acting according to these guidelines will help reduce the mosquito population and let you enjoy your summer without fear.