LB documents zero cases of West Nile Virus for first time since 2011

City touts its success against local mosquito population after zero reports of virus in 2018

Even though the annoyance of mosquitoes never seems to go away, residents finally have good news in the war against the buzzing pests.

On Jan. 3, the City of Long Beach issued a press release announcing that the Department of Health and Human Services (Health Department), Vector Control and Public Health Emergency Management (PHEM) recorded zero cases of West Nile Virus in 2018 in Long Beach. This is the first time the city has documented zero cases of the disease since 2011, according to officials.

“It is extremely rare to see zero cases of West Nile Virus in a city,” said Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia in the press release. “This was without a doubt the result of City staff and our community working together to protect and fight against mosquito-borne diseases and infestation.”

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), West Nile Virus (WNV) is the most common “mosquito-borne” disease in the continental United States. The first case in Southern California was recorded in 2003, and the first case of WNV in Long Beach was documented in 2004.

Since the first confirmed diagnosis, the City has recorded human cases of WNV almost every single year. In 2016, the Health Department documented 53 total cases of the disease. However, in 2017, it recorded only 15.
According to the press release, most people do not show any symptoms when they become infected with WNV. According to the press release from the City, most people will not show signs of being infected. Only one in 150 people will develop major health complications, such as brain inflammation, paralysis or, in rare occasions, death.

During a phone interview with the Signal Tribune last week, Nelson Kerr, manager of the Environmental Health Bureau, said that the Health Department uses multiple methods to determine the number of WNV cases in the city.

One method of identification is to work with doctors who confirm cases of WNV in their patients. In California, law doctors are required to report cases of the disease when a patient is tested positive.
Another way of tracking WNV is to test donated blood for the disease, among others. The goal here is to look for “asymptomatic blood donors” who don’t show any obvious symptoms.

“Sometimes we obviously don’t get all of them, because if somebody doesn’t have any symptoms or if their symptoms are so mild they do not seek any medical attention, we’re not going to know about it,” Kerr said.
Still, Kerr said that a lack of confirmed cases is “absolutely” a good indication that the steps taken to curb the mosquito population is working.

“We track these [cases] every year across the state, and most states will track on this,” Kerr said. “We have a good idea of the level of disease in the community. We have an excellent epidemiologist and epidemiology division here in our department, and that’s what they do– track diseases in the community.”
Even though the City takes steps to curb the mosquito population, one of its primary steps to combat the insect is community outreach.

“A big part of that is educating the public so they can tell us where they’re seeing breeding and were the problem is,” Kerr said.

The City’s various departments have worked to educate the public in how to take steps to reduce the chance of mosquitoes appearing on their property. Even simple actions, such as dumping out buckets of standing water or fixing leaking water faucets, have been a factor in the decline of WNV cases.

“It’s all about partnership,” Kerr said. “It’s a real partnership between us and the public.”