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Disease pops up again in Merced

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A second Merced County man has contracted the West Nile virus, officials said Monday. He is believed to be the first Northern San Joaquin Valley resident to be infected by the mosquito-borne disease locally.

Merced County health officials said the 31-year-old man had suffered headaches, muscle and joint pain for three weeks but did not require hospitalization. The man, who Merced Mosquito Abatement District manager Allen Inman said lives within the Merced city limit, told county officials he had not traveled out of the area at the time he likely contracted the disease.

"This is an excellent reminder that (West Nile) is not just a rural issue," Inman said. "It's also an urban issue and people need to be aware of that."

The positive West Nile test was announced Monday, the same day Merced County officials revealed more details about the region's first confirmed human case, which was announced Aug. 16.

In that case, the 41-year-old man is believed to have been exposed to the virus while on a trip to San Bernardino County in late July, health officials said. The man's symptoms included fever, a headache, stiff neck, muscle weakness and a rash. He was treated and released without hospitalization.

After surfacing in Southern California in 2002, the West Nile virus has spread to 48 of California's 58 counties. Stanislaus County has confirmed several cases of West Nile in dead birds, but no human cases. Merced County still has not had a dead bird or mosquito test positive for the disease, which has been linked to six human deaths statewide this year.

"It should be assumed that West Nile is amongst our local mosquitoes," said Merced County spokesman Richard Rios. "People should take heed and be on the lookout for dead birds that fit the state's criteria for testing."

Inman said 129 Merced County residents have phoned the state's toll-free West Nile hotline to report dead bird findings since the beginning of summer, but only 12 of those birds met the requirements to be collected. That means that local residents are doing their part, Inman said, but that the state is dealing with a backlog of calls.

In response to Monday's announcement, Inman said his department will conduct surveillance of the city of Merced by plane to check for standing water that could be breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

"We're entering our peak season for mosquitoes and this is a big county," Inman said. "Everybody needs to do their part by eliminating standing water on their properties and limiting the risk."

Mosquito abatement crews were out spraying early this morning in Hughson. Officials with the Turlock Mosquito Abatement District scheduled spraying in the area of Fox Road to Whitmore between Tully Road and Euclid Avenue from 3:30 to 5:30 a.m.

The public is still being urged to report dead bird finds to the state's West Nile hotline, 877-968-2473, or Web site, Birds of particular interest are crows, ravens, magpies, jays, hawks and eagles.

On the day of making a report, people are asked to give the government until 5 p.m. to pick up the dead birds. If that does not happen, people are asked to dispose of the birds themselves by double-wrapping them in plastic bags. The dead birds should go in regular trash containers.

Officials say there is no indication that people can contract the virus by handling dead birds. Health officials say the most effective way to guard against contracting West Nile is to use a mosquito repellent containing DEET, by wearing pants and long-sleeved shirts outdoors, or by staying indoors during peak mosquito activity, between dusk and dawn.

Bee staff writer Joel Hood can be reached at 238-4574 or

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©2004 The Modesto Bee. All Rights Reserved.

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