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Protection against West Nile

Scott N. Miller
Special to the DailyOne of the posters designed to make people aware of the mosquito-borne disease, West Nile Virus
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As West Nile virus continues to spread across the continental U.S., local public health experts expect the disease will hit with some force on Colorado’s Western Slope this year. The mosquito-borne disease, which struck the eastern U.S. in 1999, breached the Continental Divide for the first time last year. A pair of West Nile-infected birds were discovered near Gypsum, and a Grand Junction woman was killed by the disease. In September, West Nile was identified as the cause of death of a horse in Bond.

With several years of other communities’ experience in hand, local officials are now preparing ways to combat the disease.

Perhaps the biggest change will come in Eagle, which will this year begin an organized effort to reduce mosquito populations. Current plans do not include spraying, but rather the application of larvacide to standing water. There’s no firm budget for the effort yet, but Town Manager Willy Powell says he expects less than $5,000 will be spent.

Mayor Roxie Deane said that even a decade ago, Eagle had little, if any standing water within the town boundaries. Now, however, with Eagle Ranch pushing the town limits up Brush Creek, there are areas that need to be monitored for standing water, especially near the Brush Creek Pavilion and other areas of the town’s park along the creek.

“There’s a lot of mosquito activity by the pavilion,” Deane said.

While the town will try to cut down mosquito populations, spraying is not part of the plan, Deane said.

“We don’t want to massively fog around town,” she said, noting the potential for resident complaints.

Learning about bugs

With the town taking only limited measures to cut mosquito populations, public education is going to play an important part of the effort to keep the virus at bay, Deane said.

“People need to protect themselves,” she said.

The best method of self-protection is using insect repellents containing the chemical DEET.

The deet.com Web site contains recommendations for use of the chemical, including guidelines for applying repellent to young children. According to the Web site, repellent containing low concentrations of DEET can be applied to children as young as three months. In all applications, care should be taken to avoid getting repellent around the eyes, nose and mouth.

“There might be people who don’t want to wear repellent, but those people are taking a pretty big risk,” said Ray Merry, director of the Eagle County Environmental Health Department.

Merry, the point person for West Nile information for the county, 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.

Given the size of Eagle County and the large amount of public land in it, spraying is impractical, Merry said. And, he added, spraying for adult insects is an imprecise, relatively ineffective control tool in the best of circumstances. “You basically have to hit a mosquito with a droplet of water to kill it,” he said.

Merry added that spraying also has vocal opponents among residents.

“For every person who says “spray “em all,’ there are two more who say, “don’t spray anything,'” said Merry.

That sentiment has prompted more use of larvacides. However, even killing mosquitos as larvae, before they fly away from the pools in which they breed, only gets so many bugs.

Biting battle

Town Manager Jeff Shroll said Gypsum will spend nearly $20,000 in 2004 on mosquito control, including both larvacide applications and extensive spraying, but added residents still need to protect themselves. “Even if we spent $100,000, we couldn’t get all of them,” he said.

While Gypsum will work to hit as many bugs as possible before they fly away from their breeding pools, Shroll said residents need to adjust.

“I live next to the river and I fly fish,” Shroll said. “These days I wear repellent and long sleeves when I’m out fishing.”

While Gypsum doesn’t have any extra control efforts built into its 2004 budget, Shroll said the town, along with the Eagle and the county, will step up participation in the state’s “Fight the Bite” program. That program offers an informational Web site as well as a host of printed materials. Those materials will be displayed at local post offices and will be distributed in schools and at the Golden Eagle Senior Center. Materials include wallet cards, posters and pamphlets printed in both English and Spanish.

While not every mosquito in Eagle County is the type that carries West Nile, and the chances of getting the disease are slim, Merry said acting with caution is the best possible defense.

“You just need to assume every mosquito is the (virus-carrying) culex mosquito,” he said. And, he added, the coming summer is just the start. “Once it’s here, it’s here to stay,” he said.

This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.


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