Local nurse advises precaution, not panic
A Routt County Visiting Nurse Association representative said Friday that, with the confirmation of the West Nile virus in Colorado, people need to take precautions against mosquitoes, which is how the illness is spread.
Pam Nettleton, the public health nurse in the Routt County office, said people need to be aware of small areas of water, such as those that collect in bird baths and tires, that can attract mosquitoes.
“People need to wear long-sleeve shirts and smaller children and the elderly may not want to go out just before dusk and just before dawn when mosquitoes are out,” Nettleton said.
She said there are no current vaccines for the virus and one may not be available for another year.
There are, however, vaccines for horses and local veterinarians have advised animal owners to get their horses vaccinated as soon as possible.
Nettleton said people should take precautions but should not get overly concerned regarding the illness.
According to the state Public Health Department, more people will die of illnesses such as influenza or diabetes than West Nile virus.
John Pape, an epidemiologist who specializes in animal-related diseases for the department’s Disease Control and Environmental Epidemiology Division, said this is the first detection of the virus in animals in Colorado.
However, Dr. Ned Calonge, the state’s acting chief medical officer and state epidemiologist who is based at the Department of Public Health and Environment, emphasized that there have been no human cases in Colorado and there may not be human cases anytime in the near future. Humans, most of whom will not become ill, can be infected with West Nile virus when bitten by a mosquito that is carrying blood from an infected bird. Mosquitoes also infect horses.
Calonge suggested that when going outside, people should wear protective clothing, such as lightweight, long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and should apply insect repellant containing DEET to exposed skin. Products with 10 percent or less DEET are recommended for children.
Other actions recommended by Dr. Calonge and Pape include:
Make certain that doors and windows have tight-fitting screens. Repair or replace screens that have tears or holes in them.
Stock permanent ponds or fountains with fish that eat mosquito larvae.
Check around faucets and air conditioner units and repair leaks or puddles that remain for several days.
- Make certain roof gutters drain properly and remove any standing water under or around structures or on flat roofs.
- Remove items that could collect water such as old tires, buckets, empty cans and food and beverage containers.
Colorado’s state and local health departments have been monitoring for West Nile virus for the past two years.
Blood samples are taken frequently from May through September each year from 23 sentinel chicken flocks, located throughout the state, to check for mosquito-related diseases. Those diseases include West Nile virus; Western Equine encephalitis; and St. Louis encephalitis. However, a complete round of tests on all 23 sentinel chicken flocks, which was completed Tuesday, did not show any evidence of West Nile virus.
The number and types of mosquitoes in an area of the state also are monitored by local officials with sample mosquitoes being tested for the presence of viruses.
Dead birds from the corvid family also are being submitted by local health departments, county public health nursing services and local animal control agencies to the Department of Public Health and Environment’s laboratory in Denver for testing for West Nile virus.
If any such birds, including crows, magpies, ravens and jays, are found within 48 hours of the time of death, they should be kept cool or frozen and then submitted to local health departments, county public health nursing services or local animal control agencies across Colorado. Gloves or a shovel should be used to pick up the dead animal and to place it in a plastic bag.
Pape emphasized that dead birds, such as sparrows, starlings, pigeons, finches, robins and blackbirds, are not currently being tested.
More information can be obtained by calling the State Department of Public Health and Environment’s West Nile virus information hotline at (303) 692-2799 or by logging onto the department’s Web site at http://www.cdphe.state.co.us.
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