Frustration, Anger in Neighborhood Where LB Woman Died of West Nile VirusReturn To Front Page
(August 9, 2004) -- A number of residents in the neighborhood where an elderly LB woman died of the mosquito-borne West Nile Virus (WNV) expressed a mixture of frustration and anger over official secrecy and a lack of detailed information on how close the potentially fatal disease was to their homes...and said they previously alerted City Hall to standing water in street gutters.
As previously reported by LBReport.com, LB's Dept. of Health announced the city's first human death from WNV on August 9. Public health agencies generally do not report details on health matters to protect confidentiality. The person's name has not been officially released as of this posting and we have not identified the specific neighborhood or the residents who spoke with us.
However LBReport.com learned of the location and arrived at midafternoon August 9 to find people gathered on the sidewalk, a mix of greying residents and young parents. With a dead crow up the street, and an ice cream truck rolling by playing a happy tune, they told LBReport.com:
Resident 1: ...[T]hey waited for a week to tell everybody exactly where [the WNV case] was at. They haven't said anything about any standing water. They haven't let us know any precautionary type tactics or anything like that. It's on record that there's people in this block that have newborn kids and young kids as well as old people, but nobody let us know, from the City, or Vector Control, or anybody warning us about it and how to take precautions...They just go ahead and tell you in general and nobody really knows if it's close to home or a block away or even four of five houses away...So the city's not keeping up their end of the deal, with all of us paying taxes, and paying hefty taxes on that in Long Beach, you know at least they can go around and take that money and put it to good use as far as notifying the people who are paying the taxes on how to stay alive...[Referring to standing water] The gutters, the storm drains [wife says, "they don't drain"]...there's not enough drop...[wife says] I've got a mosquito bite on my neck. [several other residents referred to standing water]
Resident 2: Every person on the block has something at stake here, whether they have kids, there's elderly and retired, and people with medical conditions, I mean everybody has something to be terrified about, about going outside your house when nobody's doing anything about this. I mean, we can put a face on it. We know it is who was dying from this. It was out neighbor. And when you can put a face on it it makes it even more terrifying because you know it's ten feet away from you, and it's the luck of the draw at this point because nobody's doing anything to stop it...
Resident 3: ...If the Long Beach officials, who's ever in charge, had come out and talked to us and let us know that people were dying, I mean if we (voice breaks), I'm really upset, maybe this lady wouldn't have died, I don't know. But we needed to know and that's why I was so upset when we found out that she had West Nile a week ago...They could have given us a square block radius as to where the affected area really was and where the sick woman lived so we could all be a little more cautious...Nobody does anything until there's a death...
As previously reported by LBReport.com, on July 13, the issue of standing water in city gutters came up during an agendized discussion of West Nile Virus.
LB City Engineer Mark Christoffels said city staff is aware of close to 2,500 locations citywide with damaged curbs and gutters that are resulting in standing water. He said these would cost close to $6 million to repair...and when City Hall now receives standing water complaints from residents, "we send them a letter indicating that we've identified it and we are, when funding becomes available, going to fix these locations." He added that the letter includes contact phone numbers...and a copy of the letter also goes to the LB Dept. of Health "so it can follow up in terms of having vector control spray the location to make sure that the ponded water doesn't result in mosquitoes."
At that Council meeting, Greater L.A. County Vector Control District Manager Jack Hazelrigg said his agency, which handles mosquito abatement in about half of LB (east of Lakewood Blvd., north of PCH) "routinely sprays gutter water, any standing water, on about a seven to ten day basis, so there's no need for the residents to call our district and report standing water."
And at the same Council meeting, LB's Acting City Health Officer, Dr. Helene Calvet, MD, urged citizens to attend to items on their private property "that may collect water, such as rain gutters, cans in the backyard, discarded tires...One thing to look out for are your planters. Over-watering and having that water collect in the bottom of your planters can be a great place for mosquitoes to breed."
Dr. Calvet said:
Now if you do have standing water in a public area, out in your gutter and other area, you can report this to the appropriate vector control district [caveat: see different advice from Greater LA County Vector Control District official, below] and what will happen is they were sample the water...to see if there's mosquitoes breeding there.
Not all standing water is going to breed mosquitoes. They're somewhat particular. They like water that's kind of calm, has lots of plant matter in it, is not in the direct sunlight. So any kind of perturbation along that line, the mosquitoes are not going to like it all that much, they're not going to breed there.
If they don't find mosquitoes, nothing necessarily needs to be done...If mosquito larvae are found, then the water will be treated. And what happens is that places that have consistent standing water get added to the list of areas that are regularly treated. So our vector control specialists will come and use different methods, sprays, pellets, etc. in these problem areas on a regular basis.
If there seems to be some defect in the sidewalk...leading to standing water, we will make referrals to Public Works to try to remediate these areas, but that's not going to happen right away.
LBReport.com collected West Nile Virus coverage
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