Foreclosed homes don’t just depress prices in their surrounding neighborhoods — they are a public health threat, according to officials in Contra Costa County east of San Francisco.

Homes in foreclosure are a potential breeding ground for mosquitoes that carry the deadly West Nile virus because the bugs inhabit swimming pools or other standing water on neglected properties.

Either homeowners are too busy dealing with their financial situation to maintain their properties, or in some cases the properties are abandoned, and “the swimming pool or spa is left to the mosquitoes where hundreds of thousands of them can be produced,” the county’s Mosquito & Vector Control District warns.

According to the district, nearly 10,000 homes in Contra Costa County are in some part of the foreclosure process, and nearly half are in areas that are at highest risk for West Nile virus.

There were eight known cases of West Nile virus last year in Contra Costa County, two of them fatal. Seven birds have tested positive for the virus so far this year.

Nearly one out of three swimming pools the district has inspected this year turned out to be breeding mosquitoes. The district is asking people to keep an eye out for standing water that can breed mosquitoes, and to drain pools that are not in use.

“Clearly the West Nile virus risk would be decreased drastically if every resident and business owner became a steward of their neighborhood and their community,” said Deborah Bass, a spokeswoman for the district. “With more than 420,000 households and businesses in the county, the District simply doesn’t have the workforce to go door to door and inspect every property.”

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