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County wary of West Nile

by Veronica Whitney

Although no human cases of West Nile virus have been reported in Eagle county yet, county health officials are recommending people be on the alert.

“People should take precautions,” said Sarah Schipper, nurse manager for Eagle County. “It shouldn’t be surprising if we get some human cases this year.”

So far, one dead bird found in Gypsum in July has tested positive for the virus. That means there are mosquitoes in the county that are carrying the virus, Schipper said.



The West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne disease that can cause encephalitis or meningitis, both brain infections and both potentially deadly. Mosquitoes acquire the virus from birds and pass it on to other birds, animals and people.

Only certain species of mosquitoes carry the virus. The Culex tarsalis is the only mosquito to carry the virus in Colorado. The Culex tarsalis mosquito will feed on anything, including horses, birds and humans.



Health officials believe one reason the disease is spreading so rapidly is because of the Culex tarsalis’ feeding habits.

The majority of the people who get infected with the virus have no illness or at most, have an infection similar to a mild flu with fever, headache and fatigue.

“So far, we have no human cases here,” Schipper said.



The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment hasn’t notified Schipper yet if the test of a local person who had some West Nile virus symptoms is positive.

“We wouldn’t receive notice if the test was negative,” she said.

Colorado leads the nation in human cases, with 299 and seven deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting 393 cases and nine deaths nationwide.

Shipper, however, points out that the state health department counts all cases including the milder West Nile virus fever – while most states report only the cases that develop into encephalitis and meningitis.

A seventh Coloradan died last week of complications from the West Nile virus, state officials said Thursday. The victim is the second Weld County resident to die from the virus and the 57th case overall in the county, the state’s hardest hit.

State health officials also reported 52 new West Nile infections in humans Thursday and said the first human case of the mosquito-borne virus had appeared west of the Continental Divide in Colorado.

A man in Delta County, southeast of Grand Junction, developed symptoms July 27, the state health department said. His name and age were not disclosed, but the agency said he had only a fever.

California officials reported Thursday that a San Francisco-area resident may have contracted the virus while on a visit to Colorado. Health officials said the 47-year-old woman has a probable case of the virus and told them she was bitten by mosquitos while on a trip that included Colorado.

She would be the first confirmed case in California this year.

Meanwhile, health officials are looking forward to the late summer frost, which should kill off disease-carrying mosquitoes.

“We have five more weeks to go. Until the frost comes,” Schipper said.

Although there’s a West Nile virus vaccine for horses, there isn’t one for humans. Also, there’s no specific treatment for the West Nile virus.

“Doctors can just treat the symptoms a person has,” Schipper said. “But we shouldn’t panic. More people die of the flu every year than of West Nile virus complications.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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