First human case of West Nile reported in Eagle County |

First human case of West Nile reported in Eagle County

Veronica Whitney
Alfonso Hernandez, 32, left, looks over at this friend, Martin Torres, 43, as Torres feels for a mosquito bite on his arm in Hudson, Colo., Thursday, Aug. 21, 2003. Hernandez and Torres are migrant farm workers and cover themselves from head to toe while working in the fields to prevent getting bitten and possibly contracting West Nile virus. Of the more than 600 West Nile cases reported across the state, it's unclear how many are farm laborers. The state health department does not track infections by occupation, but officials say the number may be high, since the workers toil in damp fields that are havens for insects. (AP Photo/Rocky Mountain News, Linda McConnell)

Eagle County reported its first human case of West Nile Virus Tuesday. County officials said they expect to see more cases before the end of the summer.

A blood sample obtained from an unidentified, 46-year-old Edwards’ woman tested positive for West Nile fever, the most common and milder form of the mosquito-born disease that has killed eight people in Colorado. The disease can cause ailments ranging from flu-like symptoms to meningitis and encephalitis.

“We’re relieved to know this case is the milder form. The woman was not hospitalized and is recovering,” said Sarah Schipper, nurse manager for Eagle County. “It’s a vivid reminder that everyone should be aware mosquitoes in our area are carrying the virus and that there are very simple ways we can protect ourselves.”

This is the first human case of West Nile in the Eagle County. A dead bird found in July in Gypsum also tested positive for the disease.

“It is impossible to determine exactly where the Edwards’ resident contracted the virus,” Schipper said. “Surveillance of dead birds has revealed the presence of the virus in portions of Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties. So prevention remains the keyword.”

Cases statewide

Garfield County officials reported last week its first human case of West Nile after a blood sample from a Carbondale resident tested positive.

This year, 638 human cases of West Nile virus have been reported in Colorado, with 78 percent of the cases being the milder fever form, reports the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

As of Monday, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention reported 883 cases in the countrywide this year, with 19 deaths.

“The state health department counts all cases, including the milder West Nile Virus fever – while most states report only the cases that develop in encephalitis and meningitis,” Schipper said.

How it spreads

The West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne disease that can cause the brain and spinal cord to swell. Mosquitoes acquire 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 people can get the virus by handling infected animals.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more cases,” Schipper said. “I’m not aware of more cases right now, but it takes about a week to get the blood tested.”

Schipper said Eagle County residents – especially those 50 years of age and older – should protect themselves against mosquitoes, as well as reduce mosquito breeding grounds near their homes.

The majority of the people who become infected are between 40 and 60 years old, the state health department reports.

“At this time, county public health staff hasn’t recommended any spraying,” said county Commissioner Michael Gallagher. “We have a very competent public health staff and we are keeping our eyes open. As soon as we see a serious threat, we will take action.”

West Nile at school?

Eagle County School District nurses are looking to put information on West Nile virus in school newsletters, said Pam Holmes Boyd.

“This is an issue of wanting to educate the parents,” she said.

Schipper said she expects the mosquitoes to disappear around mid-September with the first frosts.

“It’s not time to let up in the prevention, especially with Labor Day weekend coming,” said Eagle County Assistant Administrator Becky Gadell. “People should take precautions and they’ll keep those numbers down.”

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.

Other totals for confirmed cases of West Nile virus reported in Colorado this year include: 358 horses; 524 birds; 80 blood samples taken from chickens maintained by the state and local health departments at locations across Colorado; and 410 mosquito pools.

The three counties hardest hit by the West Nile virus – Boulder, Larimer and Weld – will receive more than half the money the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave Colorado to combat the virus. They each will receive $85,000 from the $500,000 given to the state.


– On the Web:

– West Nile telephone hotline: 1-877-462-2911.

– The symptoms

People with mild infections may experience West Nile Fever, with headache, body aches, skin rash, fever and swollen lymph glands. People with more severe infections may experience West Nile Encephalitis, known for high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, occasional convulsions and paralysis. If you have any of these symptoms, contact your doctor.

– How do humans get West Nile?

The principle route of human infection is through the bite of an infected mosquito. 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. Only certain species of mosquitoes carry the virus. The Culex tarsalis, the only mosquito to carry the virus in Colorado, will feed on any animal, including horses, birds and humans.

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

– Prevention

– Avoid outdoor activities, such as gardening, at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.

– If outside during the periods when mosquitoes are most active, cover up by wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants, shoes and socks.

– Use mosquito repellents with DEET. Products with 10 percent or less DEET are recommended for children.

– Eliminate standing water in tires or similar water-holding containers as these may serve as mosquito breeding sites.Change the water in bird baths at least weekly.

– Source: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at

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