Reality Check: Risks Posed by West Nile Virus

You may have heard of or seen “fogging” trucks late at night or early in the morning spraying pesticides to target mosquitoes possibly carrying the West Nile Virus. Or you may have seen reports that Santa Clara County has recovered the most dead birds that have tested positive for the virus.

With the above in mind, NBC Bay Area wanted to know what risks West Nile Virus posed to humans.

It turns out that the risk is relatively small due to the strong preventative measures Santa Clara County has taken.

Santa Clara County acknowledges that there's been outbreak among certain insects and animals -- this year alone, there have been more than 400 cases of infected birds, which is about four times more than the next closest county in the state. But at the same time, county health officials said this is what has pushed them to take all of the necessary precautions to protect humans.

To get more clarity on what's going on, NBC Bay Area reached out to Dr. Sara Cody, the Santa Clara County Health Officer, and Dr. Scott Smith, a parasitologist at Kaiser Permanente who also teaches at Stanford.

"there’s a lot of prevention that’s been going on behind the scenes, for many, many, many months, in addition to, and prior to, the fogging,” Cody said.

Specifically, the county has been aggressive in killing larvae before they hatch as well as identifying and eliminating big areas of standing water that are ripe breeding spots for mosquitoes.

Smith explained that while West Nile is "not a tremendous risk at this time to humans," the county is concerned enough about it to take the action of fogging.

Fogging targets the adult mosquitoes, which pose the biggest risk to infecting humans. By actively spraying pesticides, as both Cody and Smith separately explained, the county is minimizing the risk posed to humans.

To date, there have only been 15 confirmed human cases of West Nile Virus in California. But county officials said that number doesn't tell the whole story because many people who contract the virus don't even know they have it because the symptoms mirror what it’s like when you get a fever.

Despite the county's efforts to protect the public, Cody emphasized the importance of being vigilant and taking the necessary precautions to prevent infections.

Specifically, she recommended steps as simple as getting rid of areas of standing water around your home -- like a pool of water in your backyard, a potted plant on your deck or a fountain on your property.

If the water is not circulating, get rid of it. Also, it’s a good idea to avoid going outside around dusk or dawn when mosquito activity is at its height. But if you do so, wear long sleeves or use bug repellent.

By taking these precautions, you’ll reduce the risk of getting the virus and there shouldn’t be any cause for getting swept up in the West Nile mania.

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