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Orange County will serve warrants, toss fish into your neglected pool to control West Nile virus

Orange County has not shied away from interesting approaches to control the outbreak of West Nile Virus.

In years past, the county's vector control — the agency responsible for keeping the county safe from infectious mosquitoes — has taken to chucking insect-eating fish into neglected pools that they couldn't get access to, usually from a neighbor's backyard. 

This year, it's added a new approach to its arsenal: warrants. 

An attorney for the district tells KPCC that the county has sought two such warrants from a judge. The warrants grant them access to a list of neglected pools in the area. 

"Neglected pools are pools that maybe have green water in them, or pools that are dry," said attorney Colin Burns. "So that when it rain comes it will fill up with a little bit of standing water and become a potential breeding ground for mosquitoes."

Vector Control has so far sought two such warrants, each lists between 60 and 70 properties they'd like to get access to to test for mosquito breeding. Burns said they'll be seeking another such warrant Monday.

If they test positive, inspectors will treat the pool, leave a note and report back to the judge. 

"We have a system in place where we go to the property, we give them 48 hours notice that we have a warrant," Burns said. "Forty-eight hours later we go in, inspect the property. If the pool's breeding mosquitoes, we'll use some chemical to treat it. We'll post on the property afterward to tell them exactly what we did." 

Burns added that the agency will not break locks or climb locked fences to gain access.

He said the move was prompted by what looks to be a very rough year for controlling West Nile, and two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions limiting government access to personal property. Neither of those cases was specifically about vector control, but Orange County wasn't taking any risks. 

"They actually had to do with GIS and another had to do with entering the courtyard of someone's property," Burns said. "But we looked at the cases and we decided that they could apply to our inspections, so we wanted to make sure to have a belt-and-suspender approach."

West Nile Virus is spread to humans by mosquitoes who have bitten infected birds. It can be deadly to older individuals and those with compromised immune systems.

As of last week, there were 57 human cases of West Nile virus recorded in California. Burns says 18 of them have now been identified in Orange County, more than any other county in the state.

PDF: West Nile Virus infections by county

The number of infections is expected to increase as weather patterns grow warmer. Burns said warmer evening temperatures will likely contribute to the number of humans infected, as more people are likely to be outside in the early evening, when mosquitoes swarm. 

Health officials say ways to prevent the spread of West Nile Virus include:

  • Eliminating pools of stagnant water around homes. 
  • Avoiding mosquito-infested areas at dawn and dusk.
  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants when outdoors.
  • Using insect repellant containing DEET when outdoors in mosquito prone areas
  • Reporting dead birds to the state's "Report A Dead Bird" website.

Read more about West Nile Virus here