MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. -

The head of the California Department of Public Health says the state is seeing the highest levels ever of mosquitoes infected with West Nile virus.

Department of Health Director Dr. Ron Chapman is reminding residents to remain vigilant of the virus.

"Last week, 52 new human cases were reported to CDPH," Chapman said.
We expect to see more people become infected as this is the time of year when the risk of infection is the highest."

So far in 2014, West Nile virus has been detected in 36 California counties. There have been 181 human cases reported to the state. That's compared to 101 cases reported by this time last year. Eight confirmed deaths have been reported to CDPH.

West Nile virus is transmitted to humans and animals by the bite of an infected mosquito. For most people, the risk of serious illness is low. However, some individuals - less than one percent - can develop a serious neurological illness, such as encephalitis or meningitis. People 50 years of age or older and people with diabetes and/or high blood pressure have the greatest risk of developing serious complications.

Health officials recommend that people prevent possible exposure to mosquito bites and West Nile virus by practicing the "Three Ds":

  • DEET-Apply insect repellent containing DEET, picaradin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535, according to label instructions. Repellents keep the mosquitoes from biting you. DEET can be used safely on infants and children 2 months of age and older.
  • DAWN AND DUSK - Mosquitoes bite in the early morning and evening so it is important to wear protective clothing and repellent if outside during these times. Make sure that your doors and windows have tight-fitting screens to keep out mosquitoes. Repair or replace screens with tears or holes.
  • DRAIN - Mosquitoes lay their eggs on standing water. Eliminate all sources of standing water on your property, including flower pots, old car tires, and buckets.

The Northern Salinas Valley Mosquito Abatement team said there's some simple steps you can take to reduce your risk.   In June, health officials confirmed one dead sparrow tested positive for the virus in Soquel.  The last time Monterey County saw a human case was in 2012, when the person brought it back after traveling. 

"We had some virus activity in the past, we used to have a lot of dead birds but in recent years we haven't received very many," said biologist Ken Klemme.

West Nile is most commonly transmitted to humans by mosquitoes.  Because there isn't any medication available to prevent or treat an infection.  There's three important ways you can protect yourself.  

"Using DEET where mosquitoes are present, wearing longer sleeves and longer pants, making sure that your screens and windows are sealed at nighttime," Klemme said.

Mosquito larvae are a mosquito fish's favorite food.  So if you have a pond or a fountain near your home, you can pick up some mosquito fish, free of charge and solve the problem.  But for those saving water during the drought.  Standing water is a major concern.  That's because mosquitoes can lay their eggs in buckets, gutters or even small pools of water.  So is it safe to use a rain cistern?  

"It's very safe as long as you keep it covered so mosquitoes  can't get in or if there is no cover we can add mosquito fish to it," Klemme said.

If you have mosquito problem, abatement teams on the central coast can visit your home to help.  They're also urging residents to report if a dead bird is seen.

Californians are encouraged to report all dead birds on the website or by calling toll-free 1-877-WNV-BIRD (968-2473).