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Mosquitos: Let the feeding begin

CLIFF THOMPSON
Eagle County correspondent

EAGLE COUNTY ” Those heat-seeking, needle-nosed blood suckers ” mosquitos ” have appeared for their summer feeding frenzy.

With them comes the possibility of catching a fatal disease caused by the West Nile virus. The good news is that you can take some very simple steps to limit your exposure, and that there seems to be less instances of the disease than in previous years.

“If you don’t want West Nile virus, use mosquito repellent,” said Ray Merry, Eagle County’s environmental health director.

This year the disease may not be as prevalent as it was during the summer of 2003, when 2,947 people in Colorado were infected. Sixty-three of those died, according to the Colorado Department of Health. Last summer the numbers dropped to 219 illnesses and four deaths.

The reason for the decrease?

“It’s cyclic, and weather-related,” said Dale Tanda, an environmental protection specialist with the department of health. “In this case it could be the virus activity has slowed down because the reservoir of corvids (crow-like birds) may be down. The second year seems to be the worst.”

The weather last summer was cooler and there were fewer mosquitos than in previous years, Merry said.

West Nile is an avian virus that is spread to humans by mosquitos that suck blood from infected birds, and then bite humans, Tanda said. So far this year only one infected bird, an owl, has been found.

But that could change with the weather, Tanda added.

“Cool weather now could turn very hot, and we have lots of water around,” he said.

Another factor in the decrease of the disease is human preparedness, he said. Many governments, like Gypsum and the metropolitan districts in the Edwards area, are targeting the Culex tarsalis mosquito that carries the disease.

Most of the anti-mosquito efforts have been kinder and gentler on the environment than in the past when, aerial insecticide spraying ” that killed more than bugs ” was used. Most mosquito control efforts now rely on a bacteria that preys on mosquito larvae. Spraying is used as a last resort, officials said.

So far this year there have been no humans reporting symptoms of the disease in the state, but it’s early. The mosquito season usually peaks later in the summer.

Most people who get infected will have no symptoms of the disease but 20 percent may show flu-like symptoms. A few, one-half of 1 percent, will get deadly encephalitis-like symptoms.

Most of the mosquitos that appear do not carry the virus, experts said, adding that it’s easy to avoid exposure to the disease by applying insecticide every time you venture outside.

West Nile virus was first discovered in this country in New York City in 1999 and has since spread to 46 of the 50 states, and is expected to reach all 50 states.

Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or cthompson@vaildaily.com.


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