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West Nile virus is here. Here's how you can fight the bite.

What it's like getting this potentially deadly virus and how to prevent it.

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — The latest discovery of a mosquito with West Nile virus in Sacramento County was just a week ago. There's no human transmission yet, but with all the rain we saw this year, mosquito and vector control districts are asking people to do everything they can to protect themselves.

West Nile virus is a real threat in California. In summer 2006, Marie Heilman was working in her yard in Winters when a mosquito infected with West Nile Virus bit her.

“I'm not old. I was a healthy 40-year-old woman and this completely changed my life,” said Heilman. “A lot of fatigue, then by that evening I had vertigo and extreme nausea so much I had to crawl to the bathroom.”

It took several doctors visits and a missed-diagnosis before discovering Heilman contracted West Nile virus from a mosquito bite.

“By the time it reached the top of my head, it felt like two cast iron skillets hitting my head, and I would let out a scream and pass out,” said Heilman.

There is no cure for West Nile Virus. Doctors can only help manage the pain, so all Heilman’s family could do was watch as the symptoms got worse.

“The next thing I know is that I was in a coma and my husband had signed my DNR (Do Not Resuscitate form),” said Heilman.

Originally thought to be on her death bed, she miraculously woke from her coma 15 days later. She was alive but the symptoms of the virus will follow her forever.

“Vision loss, light sensitivity, optical nerve damage in my eye, dizziness. I now have seizures, I’ve had two strokes and I am on meds for the rest of my life,” she said.

West Nile virus is in the Sacramento Valley now and because of our wet spring, the Sacramento Yolo County Mosquito and Vector Control District is urging you to prepare.

“We're already starting to see virus activity. A few weeks ago we found our first birds that tested positive for the virus,” said Luz Maria Robles, spokesperson for the Yolo County Mosquito and Vector Control District.

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West Nile Virus is now considered an endemic. Since 2003, more than 7,600 Californians have been seriously infected and more than 300 have died from the virus.

“West Nile Virus is our top priority because that is the one we know affects people year after year,” said Robles. “This is a collaborative effort; we really ask people to do their part.”

West Nile generally starts in birds. If a mosquito bites an infected bird, the mosquito can transmit the virus to humans. Dead birds can be indicators of West Nile, so the Vector Control’s Laboratory asks the public to report dead bird sightings so they can come out and test the carcasses.

Prevention is the first step to fighting the bite. It's District Inspector David Smith’s job to look for signs of mosquito larvae in different communities. He says mosquitoes lay eggs in standing water and they only need a bottle cap full to survive.

“It only takes about three days for those eggs to hatch and a total of a week to go through the total mosquito life cycle,” said Smith.

Inspections are a free service provided by the Vector Control District. Smith works with homeowners to point out problematic areas like the water accumulating in trash cans or flowerpots after watering. If the mosquitoes are airborne, he will either spray or set up a mosquito trap.

Prevention is only a part of fighting the bite. Protection is also important. The CDC recommends covering up with clothing and using a mosquito repellent with DEET.

“I am more scared for the young people because everyone seems to think that it is an older person infection and that is not true; anyone can get West Nile Virus. I mean we don’t think about our kids outside playing sports. Mosquitoes are attracted to your breath and sweat,” says Heilman.

If you find a dead bird, especially a crow, jay, magpie or finch, please file a dead bird report online or call toll-free 1-877-968-2473 (1-877-WNV-BIRD). 

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