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County to fight bite

Veronica Whitney

As part of their campaign to slow down the West Nile virus this summer, Eagle County officials are planning to buy mosquito repellent to distribute to residents and tourists.

The county has approved a supplemental budget request of $25,000 to prepare a more in-depth campaign to fight the disease that last year killed 55 people in Colorado and 231 across the country.

“State and federal experts expect the disease will become more intense in the Western Slope this year,” said Ray Merry, county environmental health director. “By Memorial Day, we want county residents to be aware that they shouldn’t get bitten.”

A public outreach program will target residents of Eagle County as well as the thousands of tourists who visit during the summer, focusing on the importance of wearing repellent and eliminating possible mosquito breeding grounds on properties. Pamphlets, wallet cards, posters and a Web site will be used to help spread the message.

“The program’s main focus is to convince the public to protect themselves from mosquito bites through education,” said Merry, the point person for West Nile information for the county. “Most of the information will be repellent based, with some of the money going to purchase repellents to be distributed during events. That’s why we’re establishing these points of contact.”

The mosquito-borne disease, which struck the eastern U.S. in 1999, breached the Continental Divide for the first time last year. Eagle County reported its first human case of West Nile virus in August when a blood sample obtained from an Edwards woman tested positive for West Nile fever, the most common and milder form of the mosquito-born disease that killed 55 people in Colorado last year and caused 3,000 cases – 78 percent of the milder fever. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 9,186 cases and 231 deaths in 2003.

Although no more human cases were reported, two horses died of West Nile virus in Eagle County before the end of the summer. Also, a pair of West Nile-infected birds were discovered near Gypsum, and a Grand Junction woman died of the disease.

“It is likely that we will have some cases of West Nile virus here and that’s the reason of doing more prevention,” said Sarah Schipper, an Eagle County public nurse. “This would be our second year with the disease and the second year, you get more cases.”

Although preventive measures should start in May, as the weather gets warmer, Merry said mosquitos appear in Eagle and Gypsum by the end of March.

“Then, it’s important to start taking care and make sure you don’t get bitten,” Merry said.

The West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne disease that can cause the brain and spinal cord to swell. Mosquitoes get the virus from birds and pass it on to other birds, animals and people. Mosquitoes spread this virus after they feed on infected birds and then bite people, other birds and animals. It is not spread by person-to-person contact and there is no evidence that people can get the virus by handling infected animals, officials said.

Merry said his goal is to avoid any local human cases of the disease this year. That goal will only be met by education and information, he said.

“The bottom line is that people need to protect themselves from being bitten by a mosquito,” he said. “Any mosquito flying around has the potential of having the virus.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

Fighting the bite

Inquiries can be directed to Ray Merry, director of environmental health, Eagle County government, P.O. Box 179, Eagle, CO 81631. For more information, call 328-8755.

On the Web: http://www.FighttheBiteColorado.com

Hotline: 1-877-462-2911.


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