San Francisco public health officials today warned about the possible spread of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus after a dead bird infected with the virus was found recently near City College of San Francisco, the third virus-positive bird since 2007.

While no human cases of the virus have been reported in the city since 2005, the infected bird indicates that the disease is present at the start of the city’s warm weather season, when mosquitoes tend to breed in stagnant water, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

“San Franciscans will be at risk for West Nile during the summer and fall when mosquito activity is at its peak,” said Dr. Rajiv Bhatia, the agency’s medical director for environmental health.

“West Nile virus is preventable and it takes all of us working together to continue to keep ourselves and our families protected,” Bhatia said.

As of Tuesday, 126 cases of West Nile Virus infection were reported in California this year, with six cases resulting in death. In the U.S., 3,142 people have caught the virus so far in 2012 and 134 have died, the highest number of recorded cases since 2003, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

A coalition of San Francisco government agencies, including the Public Utilities Commission and the departments of environment, public works and public health, are urging residents to eliminate standing water from storm drains, water basins, ornamental ponds, lawns, bird baths, wading pools and leaking pipes to limit mosquito breeding.

Mosquito bites, which inject the disease into humans, may be avoided by wearing long pants and shirts, using repellants on exposed skin and placing screens on windows, public health officials said.

People over age 50 and those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to the virus. People suffering from a fever and headache for more than seven days may have the virus and should seek treatment, said Dr. Tomas Aragon, health officer for the city and county of San Francisco.

“We are once again asking San Franciscans to be vigilant about mosquitoes and mosquito bite prevention,” Aragon said “Like sunburn, West Nile virus is completely preventable. A little prevention goes a long way.”

Residents who discover significant mosquito activity should report it to public health officials by calling 311. Those who find a dead bird are urged to notify the state of California at 1-877-WNV-BIRD.

Jeff Burbank, Bay City News

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