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First dead crow signals start of West Nile virus season in L.A. County

May 12, 2011 | 11:53 am

A dead crow in West Covina has tested positive for the West Nile virus, prompting officials to issue warnings about precautions to take against the common but potentially dangerous malady.

Dead birds are frequently the first indication that the virus has become a seasonal, potential threat to humans. The crow was found Tuesday near San Bernardino and Azusa Canyon roads, the first confirmed evidence of the virus in Los Angeles County in 2011.

"This is normal and expected," said Kelly Middleton, public information officer for the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District. "This is the time of year we start watching for it. When the weather warms up, the West Nile virus starts transmitting. More people don't think we have mosquitoes and the West Nile virus, so we have to keep reminding them."

Humans contract the virus from infected mosquitoes. The insects get it from birds. About 80% of infected people show no symptoms. About 1 in 150 become seriously ill. Symptoms can include fever, headache, nausea, body aches and a skin rash. In rare cases, the virus can result in encephalitis and death. The virus caused six deaths in California last year. The virus was first found in California in 2002, Middleton said.

The elderly and people with compromised immune systems are most susceptible. As with other viruses, a person may be immune from later infection after recovering from one, Middleton said.

People can reduce the risk of infection through mosquito-control measures such as avoiding mosquito-infested areas at dawn and dusk, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors, using mosquito repellents, repairing holes in window screws, eliminating stagnant water outside and cleaning and chlorinating swimming pools.

Residents who see dead birds should call (877) WNV-BIRD, or (877) 968-2473.

-- Howard Blume