DELTA COUNTY – The West Nile virus season is here, and health departments are warning citizens and visitors to take precautions to protect themselves.
A stream of West Nile cases – six of the ten reported cases were diagnosed this week – have struck Delta County, and several victims are hospitalized.
"With the recent rains, we are asking residents to be especially vigilant in using mosquito repellent and draining any standing water,” said Delta County Public Health Director Bonnie Koehler. “The prime West Nile virus transmission season will last at least another two weeks before it begins to taper off as the mosquitoes prepare to winter-over.”
Although the cases have not moved south into Montrose, Ouray or San Miguel counties, health officials are warning residents that they should not be naive to the fact that the virus is present.
"It's out there, and it's always going to be out there," said Randy Swepston, environmental health manager with Montrose County Health and Human Services. "It varies from year to year, but the important thing [for] citizens is that they can protect themselves."
Although 80 percent of people who contract the West Nile virus won't show any symptoms, the virus is a potentially serious illness, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Serious symptoms, which about 1 percent of those infected will experience, include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, tremors, convulsions and muscle weakness, and can escalate to vision loss, numbness and paralysis. The effects can be permanent.
Milder symptoms resemble symptoms of the flu, and can include fever, body aches, nausea, vomiting and, sometimes, swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back.
Symptoms typically develop between three and 14 days after one is bitten by an infected mosquito, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The risk of illness is believed to be greater in older people, Swepston said, although he added that that assumption may be changing, with reports from Texas that more younger people are being infected.
"But at any age, you can protect yourself," he said.
Working to reduce areas in which mosquitoes breed and preventing bites are the best ways of avoiding the West Nile virus, according to the CDC.
Mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn, so especially during these times, it is critical to use insect repellent containing an EPA-registered active ingredient, such as DEET or oil of lemon eucalyptus, or wear long sleeve shirts and pants.
Keeping mosquitoes out of your home when they are most active, with good screens on windows and doors, is also important, and there are measures one can take to keep them from breeding around the home.
"Mosquitos breed in water – it can be a bird bath or a tire with rainwater," Swepston said. "The more you reduce that standing water, the more you control breeding."
Change water in pet dishes and replace water in bird baths weekly, recommends the CDC. The CDC also suggests driling holes in tire swings so water can drain. Keep children's wading pools empty and on their sides when not in use. being used.
Local health departments have "B.t.i dunk" available to citizens to help in prevention. The dunks are non-toxic mosquito-control tablets which contain bacteria; the tablets infect mosquito larvae, and prevent the larvae from developing into an adult. The tablets are free, and should be placed in pools of standing water. They can also be purchased commercially in Montrose.
Since 1999, more than 30,000 people have been infected by the West Nile virus, according to the CDC. This year so far, 47 states have reported the virus in humans; it has claimed 41 lives. States with the most cases are Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota and Oklahoma.
The virus doesn't just infect humans, it also infects animals.
There have been eight equine cases of West Nile in Colorado as of Aug. 22, including cases from Delta, Montrose and Mesa counties, according to the State Veterinarian's Office.
The West Nile virus can be carried by infected birds, and then spread locally by mosquitoes that have bit those birds. The mosquitoes then pass the virus to humans and animals.Horses are a dead-end host, and therefore, infected horses pose no threat to public health, but they can be severely affected, and are an indicator of the presence of the virus in mosquito populations.
Although there is no vaccination for humans, there is a vaccine for horses, and owners are encouraged to use it.
Area health officials have been running mosquito traps in an effort to determine where West Nile is prevalent, and will continue to do so to help create prevention plans and evaluate control methods.
More information on West Nile virus can be found on the CDC's website or at fightthebitecolorado.com.
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