Second horse dies of West Nile virus |

Second horse dies of West Nile virus

Veronica Whitney

Although West Nile virus season has ended, Eagle County officials are beginning to plan for next year to prevent more cases.

A second horse died of West Nile virus in Eagle County Wednesday, but no more human cases have been reported as of Wednesday, said Sarah Schipper, Eagle County nurse.

The county reported its only 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 has killed 44 people in Colorado.

“If the virus proceeds as it has in the past year, we could see more cases on the Western Slope in 2004,” Schipper said. “That’s because it would be our second year with the disease. The second year, you get more cases. On the Eastern Slope, there could be less cases because 2003 was their second year with reported cases.”

So far this year, Colorado leads the country with 2,170 cases and 44 deaths, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of Tuesday, there were 6,807 cases in the United States and 145 deaths, the CDC says. In comparison, in 2002, Colorado reported just 14 cases and no deaths while there were 4,156 cases and 284 deaths in the country, the CDC reports. No cases were reported in Eagle County in 2002.

“But the fact that this was our first year doesn’t necessarily mean that we will get more cases. We don’t know exactly where it could happen on the Western Slope,” Schipper said.

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 that people can get the virus by handling infected animals.

“People should start taking precautions when the weather begins to get warmer in May, although cases don’t show up until July,” Schipper said.

The last person to die of the disease in Colorado was a 71-year-old man from Arapahoe County who died from West Nile encephalitis, Sept. 20.

John Pape, an epidemiologist who specializes in animal-related diseases at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said this death and 166 new human cases are individuals who were infected in late August through mid-September.

“Although West Nile virus season is over in Colorado, such residual cases will continue to be reported through October as the department’s investigations are completed,” Pape said.

The incubation period for the disease lasts from three to 14 days.

The first horse reported to have had West Nile Virus in Eagle County was put down in September after it became paralyzed by the disease. He was un-vaccinated. Although there’s no vaccine against West Nile virus for humans, there is one available for horses.

Courtney Diehl, a local veterinarian who dealt with the 29-year-old horse from Eagle that recently died of the disease, recommends horse owners vaccinate their horses before April. This year, Diehl said, the veterinary hospital where she works gave about 300 doses.

“It’s sad, I thought we were done for the year,” Diehl said. “It’s very important that people vaccinate their horses. The two horses that died were un-vaccinated.”

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

At a glance

More information on West Nile virus can be found on the Web at or by calling the Colorado Health

Education Line for the Public at 1-877-462-2911.

The statewide, toll-free hotline, which is staffed by trained operators, is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week.

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