West Nile testing cut in Colorado
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER ” Federal funding cuts have forced Colorado to scale back testing of mosquitoes for the West Nile virus and help for county health departments confronting a booming mosquito population this year.
An expected 22 percent cut in federal funding ” from $800,000 last year to $625,000 in 2007 ” forced state officials to reduce the time in which they monitor mosquitoes to warn residents and municipalities of the prevalence of the disease.
Officials normally monitor mosquitoes from May through September. This year they started in June and will end in August, said John Pape, epidemiologist for the state Department of Public Health and Environment.
Pape said he isn’t too concerned about not testing in May and September since previous years show testing is most important during the summer months. But he expects funding to continue to dry up in the coming years and said that could make it difficult to continue full monitoring during the height of West Nile season.
Seven human cases of West Nile had been reported in Colorado as of Tuesday. The latest involves a 32-year-old woman from Adams County. The other cases occurred in Boulder, Cheyenne, Larimer, Logan, Mesa and Weld counties.
Only few of people infected with West Nile end up feeling sick. Those that do can experience a fever, headache and neck stiffness. In more serious cases, blindness, paralysis and inflammation of the brain have been reported.
Pape said it’s important to compare similar data from year to year to accurately forecast how widespread the disease is so people can take precautions like wearing insect repellent and draining standing water. State forecasts also help cities and towns to decide whether to patch potholes or spray for mosquitoes instead, Pape said.
“If you’re not collecting any data, then I’m basically no better off than flipping a coin,” he said.
Pape has warned that counts of mosquitoes carrying the disease are the same or higher this year than in 2003, when West Nile killed 63 people in Colorado and was diagnosed in nearly 2,900 others.
Because of the federal funding cuts, Pape said the state won’t be able to give counties as much money to help pay for people who collect the mosquitoes to be tested or support local programs warning residents about the disease. But he said now the state will be able to replenish supplies at its laboratories that test mosquitoes.
Pape said federal funding for new health threats like West Nile usually starts out strong and then diminishes, with states expected to gradually shoulder more responsibility. Colorado is not spending any more money to make up for the federal cuts this year.
He said the same thing happened after an outbreak of hantavirus in 1993. After three years of federal funding for the disease, which is carried by deer mice, Pape said Colorado is now on its own to monitor the disease.
The state has had six cases of hantavirus this year, including four people who died. That ties the record for deaths in 1993.