Menlo Park squirrel infected with West Nile virus

San Mateo County says rodent carried chronic infection

A gray squirrel trapped by the county in Menlo Park has tested positive for the West Nile virus, San Mateo County officials said Monday, July 23.

"We are taking special precautions to determine whether this West Nile virus-positive squirrel is an indication of elevated disease risk," said Angie Nakano, acting laboratory director for the county's mosquito and vector control district, in a press release.

The squirrel was trapped on July 3. Tests showed it carried a low, or "chronic," level of virus, which may indicate that it was infected last year, the press release stated. But since tree squirrels don't travel far, the district believes the infection occurred in Menlo Park.

West Nile virus is transmitted through bites from infected mosquitoes. Technicians are setting traps and sending all captured mosquitoes to state labs for testing, according to the release. If they test positive the district will then destroy mosquito breeding areas.

"Residents who are getting bitten by mosquitoes around their homes or workplaces should contact the district," Nakano said.

West Nile virus causes a range of symptoms, from a severe illness with nervous-system malfunctions to a flu-like illness with high fever and excessive sleep, or possibly no signs of illness at all, according to the mosquito district. The district suggests limiting mosquito bites by:

• Eliminating standing water

• Wearing mosquito repellent

• Staying covered or inside during dawn and dusk

For help with a mosquito problem call the district at 650-344-8592. The agency asks residents to report dead birds or tree squirrels, which may be an early indication that the virus is active in the environment, either online at or by calling 877-968-2473.

Learn more about the virus on the agency's website.

The West Nile virus season arrives as the mosquito district attempts to regroup in the wake of embezzlement allegations that led the county to consider shutting it down. The former finance director, Jo Ann Dearman (also known as Joanne Seeney), and accounting supervisor Vika Sinapata face trial on charges of stealing more than $450,000 from the district. Both women have pleaded not guilty.

Dearman was already facing charges of embezzlement by a previous employer when she was hired by the district in 2009, according to the district attorney's office. She was subsequently convicted, and reportedly took medical leave from the district to serve time in prison.


Posted by 40 year Palo Alto Gardener, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 24, 2012 at 10:29 am

Remember, it is against the law to live trap squirrels and then release them elsewhere. It is within the law to dispatch them in your yard, though. Submerging the trap in a water filled garbage can will work, but a far less "hands on" approach would be to use one of the new electric rat traps now on the market. They carry enough power to handle a squirrel, and IMO its far more humane.

Posted by define "humane", a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 24, 2012 at 10:55 am

40 year Palo Alto Gardener --

You should be ashamed of what you posted.

And to suggest that electrocution is "more humane" than drowning?

What, exactly, is your definition of "humane"?

Posted by A Noun Ea Mus, a resident of Professorville
on Jul 24, 2012 at 11:09 am

Are people really killing squirrels on their urban property?

Unless they're playing "rat" and coming into your home what possible reason would one have?

Shouldn't "the market" decide? (hawks, ravens, dogs, etc.)

If I killed the squirrels in my yard my dog would be royally pissed off.

Posted by 40 year Palo Alto Gardener, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 24, 2012 at 11:13 am

More humane would mean a quicker death than drowning. I didn't say it was the most humane. The MOST humane would be to do nothing, or maybe feed them, but that would be counter productive to the goal of protecting my family and my garden. I stand firmly and proudly by what I posted. Nothing I posted is against the law so if my values don't jibe with yours, you'll just have to deal with that on your end. When pests become a problem that cannot be removed by non lethal means, I chose to place the value of my family's health and my property over the life of a squirrel.
I think you may be suffering from "Selective sympathy" for some animals, but maybe not all. Do you let termites live in your house or do you gas them? I'm sure someone would tell you you should be ashamed for ridding your house of termites.
What would you do with rats in your house?

Posted by once a gardener, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 24, 2012 at 12:04 pm

As a gardener myself, I'm not very sympathetic about the squirrels, either. They are worse pests than anything else I can think of. They don't just glean a portion of food from a garden, their practice is wholesale destruction. They pick, take a tiny bite, then throw whatever it is on the ground and move to the next. A squirrel or two can lay waste to a huge almond tree and its harvest in an afternoon or two. Not to eat themselves, they just ruin all of it and throw most of it on the ground.

Am I allowed to put up an electric fence?

Posted by A Noun Ea Mus, a resident of Professorville
on Jul 24, 2012 at 12:15 pm

I'm not a big moralistic "never kill any animals" type guy. Rats in the house, insects running amuck inside, sure.

But squirrels outside? To protect an outside garden in Palo Alto would require Auschwitz type extermination of squirrels. To protect your family? Are squirrels ganging up on people's kids like the tiny dinosaurs in the opening scene of the first Jurassic Park movie?

Are you referring to the fact that squirrels can carry disease? If that's the standard why not setup a 50 caliber machine gun in your yard and blast away at all the birds (bird ful, nile virus, etc.) as well as any other form of wildlife. And incinerate everything to blast away at the insects. My old girlfriend used to work for US Forest Service up in the sierra's. Every so often a dead squirrel would be sent to some lab. Two months later (after summer season almost ended) the result might come back as them having the plague. So place belatedly closed.

Death to Deer Mice! (hanta virus)

And citizens just taking it upon themselves to wipe out "their" rodent populations would probably only help to spread any disease present in the rodent population.


Model explains bubonic plague's persistence
By John Travis
October 21st, 2000; Vol.158 #17
"Past efforts to model bubonic plague treated it as primarily a human disease, which is inappropriate, says Keeling. "It's a rodent disease that occasionally infects humans," he explains. The fleas that transmit the plague feed upon people only when the disease wipes out so many rats that the insects turn to another food source."

and SNIP

"If you ever got an outbreak in a large city in the developed world, there would probably be a strong public opinion wanting to kill the rodents, which isn't an effective strategy," says Keeling. "This will just release many infected fleas." That could worsen a human epidemic. So, Keeling suggests that insecticides are a more appropriate response once bubonic plague appears in people."

But so much fun to be Rodent Rambo!

Posted by Skeptical, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 24, 2012 at 1:07 pm

@ "A Noun Ea Mus" and the Rodent Rambo notion:
I have heard the kind of argument contained in your snippets from Travis' article many times (e.g., with respect to Ticks and Deer or mice). They can be a bit misleading however. Longer-term studies tend to show that reducing the population of the primary host (rodents in your example) may result in modest levels of host switching (e.g., to humans in your example), but longer term results in proportional reductions in the vector (fleas in your case), and also the disease. The reason is because the new host is typically not a very effective host, and this strongly interferes with the reproduction of the vector...but this may take a year or two to see, depending of the reproductive lifecycle time of the vector.

These things tend not to be very simple....

Posted by Cur Mudgeon, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 24, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Roof rats and squirrels, equally destructive in your fruit trees and veggie garden. Rats eat oranges--don't think squirrels do. But it is appalling to only have a fraction of your summer fruit survive as fit for human consumption.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 24, 2012 at 1:56 pm

What are the legal ways to kill a squirrel?

So far, drowning and electrocution have been reported as legal here.
Can you shoot one with either an arrow or pellet gun? Poison? Blunt force trama?

Posted by Gardener Too, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 24, 2012 at 3:15 pm

My neighbor uses a pellet gun but not sure of the legalities w/ that one. Arrows? Seems a bit odd, but maybe. Poison, blunt force, all OK if that's your preference. Essentially, any method you would use to kill a rat is OK to kill a squirrel with. What you CANNOT do is trap it and release it elsewhere. With squirrels, I've found that removal of one or two of the "problem" rodents will usually take care of the destruction.

Posted by define "humane", a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 24, 2012 at 4:38 pm

This batch of postings is frightening. So violent.

I hope I never encounter most of you.

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 24, 2012 at 7:53 pm

In addition to air guns, the Palo Alto definition of "firearm" includes weapons that fire "by means of elastic force" which would cover arrows, slingshots, and rubber bands. Here's the leading section in its entirety, followed by the applicable exception. Is there even one person in Palo Alto with such a permit? Can we see a listing?

PA Municipal Code 9.08.010 Firing and possession of guns and firearms

Except as otherwise provided in this chapter no person shall have in his possession within this city, and no person shall fire or discharge, or cause to be fired or discharged within this city, nor shall any parent, guardian or person having the care, custody or control of any minor permit such minor to have in his possession within this city, or to fire or discharge or cause to be fired or discharged within the city, any firearm, cannon, fireworks, gun, pistol, revolver, anvil, firecracker or explosive of similar nature, rifle, air rifle, air-gun, BB gun or pellet gun or any instrument of any kind, character or description which throws or projects bullets or missiles of any kind to any distance by means of elastic force, air or any explosive substance, all referred to in this section as "firearms."

9.08.020 Exceptions

(6) To the use of a gun firing .22 caliber shot-cartridge only, upon a written permit applied for and granted by the chief of police to protect life or property against animals, birds or rodents;

Posted by qq, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 24, 2012 at 7:55 pm


You can also shoot them with your .22, with a permit from the chief of police.

Palo Alto Municipal Code

9.08.020 Exceptions.

(a) The provisions of Section 9.08.010 as to the use of any of the firearms mentioned therein shall not apply to any of the following cases:

(6) To the use of a gun firing .22 caliber shot-cartridge only, upon a written permit applied for and granted by the chief of police to protect life or property against animals, birds or rodents;

Posted by wile e coyote, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 24, 2012 at 9:24 pm

No anvils

Now that's just wrong

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 26, 2012 at 8:40 am

While it seems crazy to use a .22 instead of pellet gun, I'll apply for a permit.


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