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West Nile hits Nevada County

West Nile virus has officially reached Nevada County.

Dead birds found in Rough and Ready and Truckee earlier this month tested positive for the virus at the California Department of Health Services, which alerted the county Thursday.

“We pretty much knew it was here,” said Larry Sage, director of the county Environmental Health Department. “The surrounding counties have been positive for about a week,” he said, referring to Placer, Sierra and Butte counties in California and the Carson City area in Nevada.



“The thing we keep stressing is to go out into your yard and look for standing water,” Sage said.

Residents should dump that water because it breeds the mosquitoes that carry the virus, which has killed six people in Southern California this year. Very few get sick after a bite from an infected mosquito, and death is rare, but the elderly are more vulnerable than the rest of the population, medical experts have said.




No human or horse cases have been found in the county yet, according to the health department. Mosquitoes that bite birds both give and catch the virus, which they then spread to horses and humans.

The dead birds were a Steller’s jay found in Truckee Aug. 4 and a yellow-billed magpie found in Rough and Ready Aug. 5, Sage said.

“It is important that residents protect themselves from being bitten by mosquitoes,” said Dr. Glaister Dawkins, the county’s interim health officer. “This is especially important for our residents over the age of 50, and those whose immune systems are compromised.”

News that the virus had been detected in their community caught Rough and Ready residents by surprise Thursday.

“I’m worried about it and definitely watching my horses,” said Rough and Ready Market co-owner Barbara Joachim, who has three horses in nearby Penn Valley, all of which have been vaccinated.

“We’re not filling our pond at home because of this,” her husband, B.J., said.

Rough and Ready volunteer firefighter Matt Wright said his department hasn’t had a specific briefing about the dangers of West Nile virus – yet.

“Now that they’ve found it in Rough and Ready, I think some people are going to overreact,” he said, characterizing the situation as one of concern, not worry.

There’s no insect repellent at the Rough and Ready fire department, “but I’m sure we will have some now,” Wright said.

Fellow volunteer Mike Lancaster said he’s been prepared for the virus for a while.

Earlier this month, Lancaster wore a long-sleeved shirt, pants and insect repellent on his body during a trip to Englebright Lake, even though it was sizzling outside.

“I just take the necessary precautions,” he said. “To be honest, I never knew it was going to come here.”

“Mosquitoes don’t know boundaries or county lines,” said Song Kowbell, who stopped by the Rough and Ready Market to meet some friends. Kowbell owns an older appaloosa mustang and a mustang quarterhorse on 45 acres. Both are getting booster shots today.

“They’re going to be protected for a while,” she said.

County and state officials recommend that doors and windows have tight-fitting screens. They are also warning residents to not over-water their yards.

By Thursday, West Nile had been detected in 41 of the state’s 58 counties. Health officials are confident it is already statewide, and more cases are expected.

“We’re still fairly early. Mosquito activity remains high through September and into October, so we know that we still have not seen the worst of it,” said Ken August of the state health department.

Authorities expect West Nile to make a stronger showing in Northern California next year, August said. It first showed up in Southern California last summer, but only three human cases were reported. This year there have been 189.

At least 20 people have died in the United States from the virus this year, with California’s toll the highest and Louisiana second with five deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus killed 262 people in the United States last year.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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