Winter’s heavy rains have left large areas of standing water throughout Santa Barbara County. These potential breeding habitats for mosquitoes increase the probability of West Nile virus outbreaks during spring and summer.

One of the most effective means to detect these breeding sources is dead bird surveillance. After a winter season hiatus, the WNV Dead Bird Hotline resumed March 15.

The Mosquito and Vector Management District of Santa Barbara County is asking residents who find dead birds to report them to the California Department of Public Health’s toll-free West Nile Virus Dead Bird Hotline at 877.968.2473 (877.WNV.BIRD) or online at

Hotline staff will determine whether the bird is to be picked up and tested for West Nile. Dead birds, particularly crows, jays, magpies and ravens, in addition to hawks, sparrows and finches, are usually the earliest indicators of West Nile virus activity. Birds must be dead fewer than 24 hours and show no other obvious cause of death to be eligible for testing.

West Nile is a mosquito-transmitted virus passed primarily between birds by mosquitoes. Humans, horses and other mammals are prone to infection if bitten by a virus-laden mosquito. Although most people exhibit no symptoms, the elderly and individuals with suppressed immune systems are at greatest risk for more serious and potentially life-threatening illness.

West Nile has been detected in Santa Barbara County every year since 2004. In 2005 and 2006, very high levels of the virus were detected in many parts of the county. In California during 2005, the most recent year with heavy rainfall, there were 880 confirmed human cases (19 fatal), including two in Santa Barbara County (not fatal) along with 456 horse cases (200 fatal), including six in Santa Barbara County (three fatal).

The Mosquito and Vector Management District recommends that residents take the following precautions to protect themselves from mosquito bites and take measures to eliminate mosquito breeding around their homes:

» Avoid outdoor activity when mosquitoes are most active — from dusk until dawn.

» If outdoors, wear protective clothing and apply repellants according to label directions. Those containing DEET, Picaridin or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus have been proven to be the most effective.

» Ensure that door and window screens are secured and in good repair to prevent mosquito entrance into homes.

» Eliminate standing and stagnant water. Eggs are laid and immature mosquitoes develop in dirty pools and spas, ponds, bird baths, buckets, barrels, children’s toys, etc. Immature mosquitoes become biting adults in five to seven days.

» Free mosquito-eating fish are available to residents of the district for permanent water sources (ponds, troughs, large fountains).

» Horse owners should contact a veterinarian to have their horses vaccinated for West Nile and to keep the vaccinations up to date.

» Contact the Mosquito and Vector Management District immediately at 805.969.5050 to report mosquito problems or green pools/spas.

Residents are urged to assist the district and the state by reporting dead bird sightings. For more information or for requests for service, click here or call 805.969.5050. Visit MVMD at the Earth Day Festival in Alameda Park on April 17. It will accept reports of standing water and possible mosquito breeding sources in Santa Barbara County and promptly investigate to determine if mosquito breeding is present.

— Brian Passaro is general manager of the Mosquito and Vector Management District of Santa Barbara County.