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WEST NILE CLUSTER IN VALLEY TARGETED.

Byline: Troy Anderson Staff Writer

With reports of illness rising statewide, a cluster of West Nile virus cases have turned up in the Van Nuys and Northridge areas extending through the Sepulveda Basin and up to the 118 Freeway, officials said Tuesday.

Jack Hazelrigg, general manager of the Greater Los Angeles Vector Control District, said his workers were focusing stepped up efforts to kill mosquitoes in a four- to five-square-mile area that includes Van Nuys and Northridge.

``We're are intensively treating underground storm drains and drains that lead from those storm drains into major flood control channels in that area,'' Hazelrigg said. ``We suspect that some of the problems, at least the human cases that have occurred in this area, are a result of the underground storm drains having so many mosquitoes associated with them.

``We've had a cluster of cases in that area. I know it's at least four or five cases. It's enough to indicate we are beginning to see a clustering in that area. The onset of illnesses of people in that area began in mid-July.''

Hester Martin, 91, of Northridge died of West Nile, most likely after being bitten July 22 by a mosquito that was living in a storm drain, authorities said.

Hazelrigg said his workers began treating sewers in the area with larvicide in late July.

``Hopefully, we have stemmed any further human cases. We have a special team that goes around, pulls manhole covers and injects the material into the underground storm drains. They spray into the underground and it atomizes so it can drift a considerable distance, killing larvae in the water. It also kills adult mosquitoes.''

On Tuesday, state health officials reported that the number of West Nile cases statewide rose nearly 12 percent since Friday, from 169 to 189. In Los Angeles County, the number of cases rose 10 percent, from 53 to 59, significantly slower than a nearly 66 percent jump in the county from Aug. 11-13.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors reported hearing that calls people made to report dead birds and stagnant water had gone unanswered.

``I think it's critically important that if we are asking people to call that somebody answers the phone,'' Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. ``I can't think of anything more inexplicable than to say they called, the phone rang for five minutes and nobody answered. It's either the wrong number or somebody is taking a long coffee break.''

County Public Health Chief of Operations John Schunhoff said he would make sure the numbers work.

Winnetka resident Connie Toggiani said she called several numbers for the health department and vector control and was disconnected.

``We had five dead crows in half a block,'' Toggiani said. ``Something is up with our crow population and we are very concerned. I'm frustrated.''

Woodland Hills resident Robert Halet said he's called officials to take care of irrigation runoff troughs where mosquitoes are breeding at a nearby apartment complex, but that vector control officials could only spray the troughs on the perimeter of the building.

``They said they can't go on personal property,'' Halet said. ``We have called the complex, but have only received hostility from them.''

Last week, the Los Angeles City Council ordered the city attorney to draft language for a new law making it easier for vector control officials to go onto private property to check on complaints of standing water. Property owners who fail to cooperate face fines of up to $1,000 a day.

On Tuesday, county Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke said she would introduce a motion this coming Tuesday that would give county health officials the authority to enter private property in unincorporated parts of the county to get rid of mosquitoes.

The mosquito-borne virus has killed five people in Southern California, including two in the county. The virus also has infected 64 horses, of which 33 have died.

Most people who are infected with the virus will not experience any illness. About 10 percent to 15 percent of infected people will have mild to moderate symptoms, such as fever, headache and body aches. Less than 1 percent of people will develop serious neurological illness such as encephalitis and meningitis. The elderly, children and those with lowered immune systems are more susceptible to serious illness.

Troy Anderson, (213) 974-8985

troy.anderson(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 18, 2004
Words:723
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