West Nile could be big this year

Dr. Tom Told changes the water in his horse pasture every day. Standing water attracts mosquitoes, so it's a chore Told deems necessary because of the increased presence of West Nile virus in Colorado.

"It was big on the East Slope last year. It will probably be the same here as it was there last summer," said Told, a Moffat County health officer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 2,944 cases of West Nile virus were detected in Colorado last year, and 54 people died as a result of complications from the virus. Most of those cases occurred on the Front Range. One infection was reported in Moffat County.

The CDC has confirmed two cases of West Nile in humans this year -- one in Arizona and one in New Mexico.

And while this year's drought could be a hardship on those in the agriculture industry, it could be a minor boon to the health of county residents.

The dry weather might help keep mosquito populations down, Told said. Mosquitoes do better in moist conditions.

Last year, cases began appearing in Colorado in early June. West Nile was not detected in Moffat County until the second week of August.

Because mosquito season has begun, Told recommended people avoid outdoor activities in the early morning or evening, or wear dark, loose-fitting clothes when they are outside. Mosquitoes are attracted to bright colors.

The CDC reported that 53 percent of 2003 West Nile virus victims said they never wore insect repellent. Insect repellent is effective in combating West Nile, Told said, but those who are allergic to repellent can take B Complex vitamins, which will make their blood noxious to mosquitoes.

Told recalled one patient seeking treatment at the hospital last year who suffered central nervous system symptoms, including internal bleeding and loss of vision.

Those symptoms are extreme, but Told said patients with fevers and flulike symptoms would want to seek medical attention. Other West Nile virus symptoms include headaches, a measles-like rash and body aches.

There is no cure for West Nile virus, so physicians treat patients for symptoms. They try to control a patient's temperature, maintain hydration and stop brain swelling if it occurs.

"It's important to keep horses immunized, too" Told said.

Unlike people, horses can be vaccinated for the disease. Horse owners can administer a shot to their animals at home, said Kelly Hepworth, a veterinarian at McCandless Animal Hospital. Horses with West Nile will appear weak and exhibit a lack of coordination.

Told and Hepworth commended Moffat County's mosquito control program. Pest management will investigate complaints of standing water and treat it for mosquitoes. They test the mosquitoes and make aerial sprays, as needed.

Bruce Johnson, county pest director, said in a previous interview that the county is in the process of obtaining a machine that will enable him to test dead birds for West Nile. Results will be known faster when the birds don't need to be shipped to a testing facility.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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