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West Nile Virus Research, Experts at UC Davis

July 22, 2004

Photo: woman taking sample from a dead bird

Senior Research Associate Jacquelyn Parker takes DNA samples of the birds for West Nile testing. (Debbie Aldridge/UC Davis photo)

The University of California, Davis, has one of the largest West Nile virus research and testing programs in the United States.

UC Davis analyses were the basis for today's announcement by the state health department that, for the first time, West Nile virus has been found in dead birds in Northern California, spanning much of the state's Central Valley.

"We expected West Nile virus to show up in Northern California this summer but were surprised by the widespread nature of the cases our laboratory confirmed this week," said John Edman, director of the UC Davis Center for Vectorborne Diseases.

The Center for Vectorborne Diseases and another UC Davis unit, the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory, test dead wild birds and mosquitoes for the state of California.

Both are programs of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

In the past few days, of 214 dead birds tested, 104 were found to be infected with West Nile virus. Of those 104, there were 11 birds from eight counties where West Nile has not been seen before. They were: Sacramento County, with four birds, and Butte, Kings, Mendocino, San Diego, San Joaquin, Tehama and Tulare counties, with one bird each.

In addition to its important role in the state's public-safety efforts, UC Davis has research programs under way in many aspects of West Nile virus, including how the virus is expected to affect horses and wildlife in California; effective mosquito-control measures; and insecticide resistance in mosquitoes.

One of the largest of those research programs is based at the University of California Mosquito Research Program, which is based at UC Davis. Director Gregory Lanzaro, a medical entomologist, coordinates research funded by a $3.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, directed at mosquito control.

He also coordinates research funded by the state -- $330,000 in 2003-2004, expected to fall as low as $250,000 this year because of state budget difficulties.

Here is a list of West Nile experts at UC Davis.

WEST NILE IN CALIFORNIA -- John Edman is a professor of medical entomology and director of the Center for Vectorborne Diseases at UC Davis. He has over 40 years of research experience with mosquito-transmitted diseases. The Center for Vectorborne Diseases performs tests for the state of California to detect West Nile virus in mosquitoes, wild birds and horses. (Samples from sentinel chickens and humans are tested in state laboratories; the UC Davis center double-checks those results. Media should note that results of all West Nile tests will be released only by state officials.) Edman has published extensively on the blood-feeding behavior of mosquitoes and can answer questions about how and when West Nile virus will likely enter and spread through California. More information: http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/cvec/. More information about state agency programs: http://www.westnile.ca.gov/. Contact: John Edman, Center for Vectorborne Diseases, (530) 754-5520, jdedman@ucdavis.edu.

MOSQUITOES AND DISEASE -- Thomas Scott is an expert on how mosquitoes transmit disease. He can discuss how scientists look out for mosquito-borne diseases ("surveillance") and how ecology and environmental factors influence the spread of a virus such as West Nile into a new area. Insect-borne diseases are likely to grow in importance as international travel becomes easier and human populations move into new areas, he said. His lab recently identified the mosquito species that are most efficient at carrying West Nile virus and transmitting it to their offspring. More information: http://entomology.ucdavis.edu/faculty/scott/index.cfm. Contact: Thomas Scott, Entomology, (530) 754-4196, twscott@ucdavis.edu.

MOSQUITOES AND DISEASE -- Gregory Lanzaro is a medical entomologist and director of the University of California Mosquito Research Program, which is based at UC Davis. This program distributes UC funds to researchers studying mosquito-borne diseases and environmentally safe methods to improve mosquito control. Lanzaro himself has active research on the genetics and population biology of mosquitoes that transmit malaria in West Africa and leishmaniasis in Latin America. He can discuss historical and modern insect-transmitted diseases of humans and animals, including control strategies. Contact: Gregory Lanzaro, UC Mosquito Research Program, (530) 752-5652, gclanzaro@ucdavis.edu.

WEST NILE IN CALIFORNIA WILDLIFE -- Walter Boyce is director of the Wildlife Health Center and a professor of pathology, microbiology and immunology in the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis. He can discuss the threat West Nile virus poses to California wildlife. Boyce and fellow scientists at the Wildlife Health Center are concerned that many animal species are at increased risk from the virus. Areas with high concentrations of mosquitoes and sufficient bird species that can host the virus may increase the threat to amphibians, reptiles, mammals and, especially, rare and endangered birds. The center released a report in June 2004 that predicts likely areas of concern, including the Central Valley, coastal regions, western Sierra Nevada, the Salton Sea and lower Colorado River basin. More information: http://www-news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=7050. Contact: Walter Boyce, Wildlife Health Center, (530) 752-1401, wmboyce@ucdavis.edu.

WEST NILE IN HORSES AND LIVESTOCK -- Gregory Ferraro is director of the Center for Equine Health at UC Davis. Center researchers are interested in determining the impact of the virus on horses and other species of domesticated animals. The program is also attempting to evaluate the relative effectiveness of currently recommended vaccination regimes for horses. Scientists will be looking for changes in disease-control and vaccination strategies that could minimize the virus' impact on California animal populations. More information: http://www-news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=6323. Contact: Gregory Ferraro, Center for Equine Health, (530) 752-6433, glferraro@ucdavis.edu.

EMERGING VIRAL DISEASES -- Frederick Murphy is an international authority on viruses and viral diseases, including rabies, encephalitis and hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola. He can discuss how outbreaks of such diseases can be detected and what steps authorities can take to prepare for these threats. Murphy is a dean emeritus of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and formerly served as the director of the Center for Infectious Diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Contact: Fred Murphy, School of Veterinary Medicine, (530) 754-6175, famurphy@ucdavis.edu.

HUMAN HEALTH AND MOSQUITO CONTROL -- Arthur Craigmill, a UC Davis toxicology specialist, can discuss potential human-health effects of various chemicals used to kill mosquitoes and mosquito larvae. Contact: Arthur Craigmill, Department of Environmental Toxicology, (530) 752-2936, alcraigmill@ucdavis.edu.

AGRICULTURE AND MOSQUITO CONTROL -- The Davis-based UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program is working with agriculture to control mosquito populations through optimal irrigation and pesticide practices. For example, in some cases it may be possible to replace flood irrigation with other forms of irrigation that are less likely to result in standing water, where mosquitoes breed. The program also is evaluating agricultural pesticide use, hoping to prevent a possible buildup of pesticide resistance among California mosquito populations. More information: http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/default.html. Contact: Richard Roush, UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management, (530) 752-8350, rtroush@ucdavis.edu.

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