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West Nile virus crosses Continental Divide

SUMMIT COUNTY – The West Nile virus has been detected on the Western Slope for the first time, but Summit County residents shouldn’t have to worry until next summer, because the mosquito season is over.

The virus was found recently in two dead starlings in Mesa County in western Colorado. Birds most likely to be affected include crows, magpies, ravens, jays, blackbirds and some songbirds.

“The positive birds from Mesa County indicate that the virus has spread across the Continental Divide,” said Ned Calonge, the state’s acting chief medical officer with the Department of Public Health and Environment. “While the spread to western Colorado and beyond may not be very great this year, it does indicate that the Divide will not represent a barrier for continuing westward movement. Next year, if not sooner, all of our state will see West Nile virus activity.”



The virus has infected 164 horses and 37 birds in Colorado since mid-August. Eight mosquito pools also have tested positive for the virus. A 42-year-old Commerce City man is recovering from symptoms of the virus after he was bitten numerous times while bird hunting in northeastern Colorado.

“We had an excellent chance of getting through this season without a human case,” Calonge said. “But it’s not surprising. We have an excellent surveillance system, and when you’re looking harder for illness, you are more likely to find it.”



According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center, the virus has been known to exist for the past 60 years in Africa, West Asia and the Middle East. Many birds in those regions have developed resistance to the virus. It is now making inroads in other parts of the world, where birds have never been exposed to the virus.

In June 2000, the New York and New Jersey public health departments reported detecting the West Nile virus in wild crow tissue. Officials in the Midwest and the South reported the first cases this year, and the virus has marched westward.

To date, 1,540 people have been diagnosed with the virus throughout the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Of those, 71 have died.

Ouch!

Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected animals. Infected mosquitoes then can transmit West Nile virus to humans and animals while biting to take blood. The virus is located in the mosquito’s salivary glands, and transmission can take place when the insect feeds on animals or people.

Most people bitten by infected mosquitos will never even know they had the virus. About 20 percent develop West Nile fever, including high temperature, headache, body aches, swollen lymph glands and occasionally a rash on the trunk of the body.

In more severe cases, the virus can multiply in the person’s blood system and eventually reach the brain. The virus interferes with normal central nervous system functions and causes brain tissue inflammation.

Symptoms of severe infection from West Nile encephalitis or meningitis include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis. The CDC estimates one in 150 people infected with the virus will develop the more severe forms of the disease.

“It’s important to continue to put West Nile virus infections in perspective,” Calonge said. “Many more Coloradans are at risk for illness and death from influenza, which is preventable through immunization, than they are from this virus.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.

Preventative Measures

? Make sure doors and windows have tight-fitting screens, and replace those with holes in them

? Drain standing water, no matter how small an amount

? Change water in bird baths, wading pools and empty flowerpot saucers at least once a week

? Check around faucets and repair leaks

? Make sure roof gutters drain properly

? Remove items that could collect water, including old tires, buckets, empty cans and food and beverage containers


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