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West Nile slows, still a threat

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Although state health officials said fewer cases of West Nile virus are being reported, the threat from the mosquito-borne virus remains very real in the San Joaquin Valley.

Thursday, Tulare County officials reported that West Nile illness was a contributing factor in the death of an 81-year-old woman there. It was the 10th reported death from the disease in California this year.

Also, the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency reported that a 73-year-old man was hospitalized in critical condition with the neuroinvasive form of the disease.

The Stanislaus County agency reported two other cases: a 20-year-old man with neuroinvasive West Nile illness, who was hospitalized in fair condition; and a 49-year-old man with West Nile fever.

"What we have seen is a decline in new West Nile cases reported by counties," said Ken August, spokesman for the state Department of Health Services. "However, we know mosquito activity continues in September and October."

Last year the virus hit hard in Southern California. This year the virus moved north, where an extended rainy season and an abundance of runoff from the Sierra Nevada contributed to conditions ripe for mosquito breeding in the Central Valley.

Statewide, 618 people are known to have been infected in 2005; last year the toll was 830 infected and 28 deaths.

According to the latest counts:

Stanislaus County — 67 cases

San Joaquin County — 28 cases

Merced County — 12 cases

Officials said they expect more people will be infected in the next six weeks. The risk of infection is minimal in November through the winter months.

Mosquito counts in Modesto and nearby communities are down 20 percent to 30 percent, said Lloyd Douglass, general manager of the East Side Mosquito Abatement District. He added that the district is getting fewer calls from people reporting mosquito problems.

Fewer mosquitoes have not reduced the infection rate in Stanislaus County, though. Of the county's 67 cases this year, 14 have been reported this month.

"It's a little premature to say that it's over," Douglass said.

Fall generally is not a peak transmission period, officials said. The cooler weather slows the reproduction cycles of mosquitoes. And people are not outdoors mornings and evenings when the bugs are most active.

One exception is attendance at high school football games.

"Remember to use insect repellent if you are attending these sporting events," said David Jones, spokesman for Stanislaus County Health Services Agency.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at 578-2321 or

For more coverage from The Modesto Bee, or to start home delivery, go to

©2004 The Modesto Bee. All Rights Reserved.

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