A gray squirrel trapped by the county in Menlo Park has tested positive for the West Nile virus, San Mateo County officials said on Monday.
"We are taking special precautions to determine whether this West Nile virus-positive squirrel is an indication of elevated disease risk," said Angie Nakano, acting laboratory director for the county's mosquito and vector control district, in a press release.
The squirrel was trapped on July 3. Tests showed it carried a low, or "chronic", level of virus, which may indicate that it was infected last year, the press release said. But since tree squirrels don't travel far, the district believes the infection occurred in Menlo Park.
West Nile virus is transmitted through bites from infected mosquitoes. Technicians are setting traps and sending all captured mosquitoes to state labs for testing, according to the release. If they test positive the district will then destroy mosquito breeding areas.
"Residents who are getting bitten by mosquitoes around their homes or workplaces should contact the district," Ms. Nakano said.
West Nile virus causes a range of symptoms, from a severe illness with nervous system malfunctions to a flu-like illness with high fever and excessive sleep, or possibly no signs of illness at all, according to the mosquito district. The district suggests limiting mosquito bites by:
-- Eliminating standing water
-- Wearing mosquito repellent
-- Staying covered or inside during dawn and dusk
For help with a mosquito problem call the district at 344-8592. The agency asks residents to report dead birds or tree squirrels, which may be an early indication that the virus is active in the environment, either online at westnile.ca.gov or by calling 877-968-2473.
Learn more about the virus on the agency's website.
The West Nile virus season arrives as the mosquito district attempts to regroup in the wake of embezzlement allegations that led the county to consider shutting it down. The former finance director, Jo Ann Dearman (also known as Joanne Seeney), and accounting supervisor Vika Sinapata face trial on charges of stealing more than $450,000 from the district. Both women have pleaded not guilty.
Ms. Dearman was already facing charges of embezzlement by a previous employer when she was hired by the district in 2009, according to the district attorney's office. She was subsequently convicted, and reportedly took medical leave from the district to serve time in prison.