Like Countable?

Install the App
TRY NOW

West Nile virus in an unlikely place: Why my loss is a wake-up call for all Americans

Given the impacts of climate change, do you support investment in resilient water and land management solutions?

by Environmental Defense Fund | Updated on 3.8.19

This article has been authored by the Environmental Defense Fund. Just take action above and let the Environmental Defense Fund know how you feel about supporting investment in resilient solutions.


By Ann Hayden, Senior Director with EDF's Ecosystems program.

This year will be like no other for me: I’ll be without my dad.

His recent death in Yolo County, California, intersected with my work to manage the impacts of climate change – in a very real and personal way. While West Nile is usually associated with damp summer conditions in the East rather than the arid West, I know now that drought can also lead to more cases.

Rising global temperatures have allowed the West Nile virus to reach virtually every corner of America, including regions where nobody used to worry about the mosquito-borne disease.


The symptoms looked familiar, doctor said

This past Labor Day, my father came down with a very high fever that landed him in a hospital where, despite their best efforts, medical staff struggled to bring his fever down and to identify its cause.

What followed were five excruciating days of experimenting with different treatments, all while my dad’s condition worsened. On Sept. 8, he died with me and other family by his side.

In the middle of the ordeal, Yolo County’s only infectious disease doctor came into my dad’s hospital room and remarked that his conditions looked a lot like other West Nile cases he’d seen, which I found hard to believe. I mean, what were the odds?

Two days after my father died, we received the results from his spinal tap test, which indicated that the doctor’s hunch was right.


West Nile cases doubled during drought

Researchers at University of California Santa Cruz, Stanford University and the New York State Department of Health were surprised to find a correlation between drought and West Nile in a 2017 study. Their research supported a disconcerting trend during the recent drought in California, where the number of West Nile cases had doubled to exceed 500 in 2014 and 2015.

Last year, 2,544 people in the United States contracted West Nile virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control, a 21-percent increase from 2017. It’s no coincidence; 2018 ranked as the fourth hottest year on record, and the single hottest for the world’s oceans.

Among states, Nebraska topped the list with 241 cases and 11 deaths in 2018, followed by North Dakota and California.There were no fewer than 203 West Nile cases reported in California last year as drought continued in much of the state. Eight people died.

After my dad’s death, I learned that West Nile is more prevalent in the West than I had realized. I discovered, for instance, that the founder and longtime publisher of High Country News, Ed Marston, also died this past summer from complications of the virus.


How a warming climate amplifies the virus

Mosquitos contract West Nile virus when they feed on infected birds, and then spread it to the birds and people they bite next. Drought and the resulting shortage of water in a landscape can accelerate the cycle.

“When we have less water, birds and mosquitoes are seeking out the same water sources, and therefore are more likely to come in to closer proximity to one another, thus amplifying the virus,” Vicki Kramer, chief of vector-borne diseases at the California Department of Public Health, told NPR in 2014, when cases first spiked.

Stagnant water creates excellent habitat for mosquitoes to breed, and high temperatures exacerbate the problem. It’s why there is more habitat for mosquitoes in the hotter Sacramento Valley than in the relatively cooler Bay Area, for instance.

Although four out of five people infected with West Nile virus don’t develop any symptoms, people 60 years of age and older, and individuals with diabetes or hypertension, run a higher risk of getting sick and developing complications. There is no treatment for the virus today.

My dad’s death underscores how climate change won’t just hurt future generations, but is affecting us here and now.


My work took on a new meaning

Years ago, I was inspired to dedicate my career to the environment in part because of my dad. A retired UC Davis professor, dad was an avid nature lover, especially the nature surrounding the Yolo County house he built and where I grew up.

After he died, I initially questioned the meaning of many things, including my work. The pain of losing him overshadowed everything. But after much contemplation, I came to realize that my personal experience and grief should instead propel me to double down on my professional efforts.

It now feels more important than ever to seek solutions that result in more resilient water and land management, given that the impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly real and are having such immediate consequences for human health.

I’m sure it’s what dad would have wanted.

Environmental Defense Fund

Written by Environmental Defense Fund

Follow this Action Center to stay updated on new posts

Leave a comment
(50)
  • burrkitty
    Voted Support
    03/10/2019
    ···

    As an environmental hydrogeologist who works primarily in municipal groundwater, I cannot stress enough how important it is that we build resilience water systems. Fresh water is a precious commodity and becoming more precious every day. I have decades of data from more than 200 municipal, industrial, and private water wells that show the relentless damage that humans have caused to the groundwater system. Anthropogenic effects are real. We do irreversible damage. It is happening to our soil, it is happening to our water, it is happening to our atmosphere. I close wells every year because they fail standards for a safe quality water for too long or too often and because I have to close wells every year that means I have to site and drill new wells every year. Millions and millions of dollars, not much of which comes to me, is spent to keep your tap water flowing on demand. How many of you know where your tapwater comes from? How many of you can name the reservoir or aquifer the water you drink comes from? How many of you read your water quality reports? Or do you just throw it away with the rest of your junk mail? Fresh water is a precious finite resource and everything in nature is connected. The irreparable damage that we are causing to our climate system is going to have a direct effect on our freshwater resources. When we lose all of our ice, lose all of our snow pack, have more drought for longer and in more places... your tap water may not flow, or if it does it will come at such an astronomical price that drought water rationing will become the norm. We are already seeing wars over water. It will not get better. We are already straining the freshwater systems to support the population of earth. We are already straining the United States freshwater systems to support the population of the United States. It’s not a problem that’s going to go away by ignoring it. The faster you wrap your head around it and acknowledge that humanity is the greatest force changing the earth, The faster we can take responsibility for our actions and undo as much of the damage as we can. Because our choices are already narrowed to 1 live with it or 2 fix it. There is no going back. We don’t have time machines. We can only deal with the present to affect the future and right now most of the effects are bad.

    Like (38)
    Follow
    Share
  • Glowurm
    03/10/2019
    ···

    Wow, burrkitty! You told it like it is! Thank you!

    Like (13)
    Follow
    Share
  • RAN
    Voted Oppose
    03/10/2019
    ···

    More climate garbage. It’s life everything living will die. It sucks this person lost their dad, but to blame it on climate change, wow that’s a stretch.

    Like (7)
    Follow
    Share
  • I.Got.an.Idea...
    Voted Support
    03/10/2019
    ···

    I support causes and legislation that protect people and animals and environment. This is certainly one of those things.

    Like (10)
    Follow
    Share
  • JTJ
    Voted Oppose
    03/11/2019
    ···

    I’m not fooled by the democrats socialist agenda.

    Like (6)
    Follow
    Share
  • HAILEYComet
    03/10/2019
    ···

    How About Stopping All Genetic Cloning And DNA Changes 🤔 It’s going On More than what’s revealed or how about the “Transparency” 🤷🏻‍♀️ ✨🇺🇸✨⚖️✨ TicToc

    Like
    Follow
    Share
  • Ken
    Voted Support
    03/10/2019
    ···

    Why is it that anything having to do with saving of lives in general is so difficult for republicans to grasp? Every issue facing our country from providing affordable health care to treatment of those coming to our southern border is met with sharp opposition. It’s time to put politics aside and work together to tackle these issues that endanger all.

    Like (10)
    Follow
    Share
  • Hillary
    Voted Support
    03/10/2019
    ···

    If we don’t act now to preserve clean water and healthy land it will be too late. I may not live long enough to see the worst but today’s youth will. It is completely immoral not to do everything we can dream of to save the earth.

    Like (7)
    Follow
    Share
  • David
    Voted Oppose
    03/10/2019
    ···

    No one wants dirty water or dirty air. The elitists looking for world domination and ultimately a one world order, have hijacked this environmental movement for their own cause. The extremes of this movement serve to destroy our freedom. Don’t fall for their lies!

    Like (6)
    Follow
    Share
  • Jerrey
    Voted Support
    03/10/2019
    ···

    Reality has to be addressed regardless of political views!

    Like (6)
    Follow
    Share
  • Robert
    Voted Support
    03/10/2019
    ···

    Get control of climate change for this reason roo😱

    Like (5)
    Follow
    Share
  • Choky
    Voted Support
    03/10/2019
    ···

    The problem of climate change is imminently coming to our nation.To be prepare is important for the future of our nation.We must be prepared in resilient method of water and land management to deal with droughts and costal flooding,not to mention the introduction of new deceases never see before in our country I urge you to support this idea.

    Like (5)
    Follow
    Share
  • Thebluesman21
    Voted Support
    03/10/2019
    ···

    Our natural and physical infrastructure should be improved and innovated with the changing state of our environment. If not, we will face the brunt of stagnant innovation which will cost us monetarily, socially, and physically.

    Like (5)
    Follow
    Share
  • Robert
    Voted Support
    03/10/2019
    ···

    The bill and Melinda gates foundation is working on this approach to stop malaria and more needs to be done

    Like (4)
    Follow
    Share
  • KevinRosa
    Voted Support
    03/10/2019
    ···

    I don't know why we don't already do this. Safe guarding our natural resources should be a national priority.

    Like (4)
    Follow
    Share
  • DrSchmidt
    Voted Support
    03/10/2019
    ···

    Trump has seriously crippled our efforts on anything to do with our environment and the same is true with the Republican party which there ignorance on climate change has not changed since 1996, only 15 percent believe our planet is in any kind of environmental danger. Since trump has been in office EPA has declined in giving fines by 85% and now he nominates a former lobbyist for the coal industry, trumps idea of coal is clean and wind and solar energy is ridiculous is ludicrous and shows his immaturity.

    Like (4)
    Follow
    Share
  • David
    Voted Support
    03/10/2019
    ···

    Burrkitty’s treatise says it straight! And eloquently.

    Like (4)
    Follow
    Share
  • DrSchmidt
    Voted Support
    03/10/2019
    ···

    Typical responses by republicans who would rather stick their heads in the sand, trotting along in their own fantasy worlds. Scientists are not political, their only concern is about our planet. I bet anyone’s whose left a negative comment hasn’t even read one scientific paper pro or con on climate change. You would just continue living in ignorance believing your ignorant leaders. Our oceans filled with plastics, smog so thick in China there’s days you can’t go out, soil erosion, stronger hurricanes and more of them, permafrost that’s been frozen for millions of yrs thawing and creating diseases that have been released by the thawing, polar ice caps shrinking impacting polar bears who are now starving to death, the examples go on and on.Your continued stupidity will be the downfall of this planet for future generations.

    Like (3)
    Follow
    Share
  • NoHedges
    Voted Support
    03/10/2019
    ···

    Not just West Nile, look into Zika, Lyme Disease and other tick borne illnesses.

    Like (3)
    Follow
    Share
  • Linda
    Voted Support
    03/10/2019
    ···

    Just because #45 doesn’t give one twit about the environment and how it affects all people, himself included, doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t. Whether a person is rich or poor, the air we breath, the water we drink and the land we walk on affects all of us. We need sustainable ways to combat disease transmission so this author’s father did not die in vain. This includes vaccination, as well as making the habitats in which vectors, such as disease carrying mosquitos, inhospitable. This is not something one person or agency can do by themselves. It needs to be an effort in which ALL people contribute.

    Like (3)
    Follow
    Share
  • Sandra
    Voted Support
    03/11/2019
    ···

    It continues to amaze me, that the party that calls themselves "Pro Life" continues to ruin, taint, pollute, destroy or defund everything that "sustains" life.

    Like (2)
    Follow
    Share