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Take precautions against West Nile virus

Lori MaldonadoColorado Departmentof Public Health and Environment

State health officials Monday urged Coloradans to take precautions, but not to panic, over the anticipated arrival of West Nile virus in the state later this summer or fall.John Pape, an epidemiologist who specializes in animal-related diseases for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, explained that with West Nile virus moving further and further across the United States this summer, it isn’t a question of whether the virus will reach Colorado but when.Pape, who works in the department’s Disease Control and Environmental Epidemiology Division, said that the virus is carried by birds in the wild and transmitted by mosquitoes that feed on the birds’ blood and then pass it on to humans and to other animals, such as horses.Pape explained that even when West Nile virus reaches Colorado, as it has the border states of Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma, it may not affect humans here immediately or may not affect them in a visible way.”Human illness from West Nile virus is usually sporadic, even in areas where the virus has been reported,” Pape said. “The chance that any one person is going to become ill from a mosquito bite is extremely low. However, people who do become ill as a result of West Nile virus tend to be 50 years of age and older, and serious illnesses and deaths from this disease tend to occur in the elderly.”The epidemiologist also explained that most people who are infected with mosquito-borne viruses do not become ill and have no symptoms. For persons who do become ill, the time between the mosquito bite and the onset of symptoms ranges from five to 15 days. Most individuals suffer from a fever, headaches and lethargy for two to seven days before they recover.Because of the threat of even minor illnesses caused by West Nile virus, Pape urged Coloradans to begin to prepare now for its arrival in Colorado by taking precautions:-Limit outside activity around dawn and dusk when mosquitoes feed. This is particularly important for elderly adults and small children.-Wear protective clothing such as lightweight long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outside.-Apply insect repellent to exposed skin when outside. Repellents with DEET are effective but should be applied sparingly. Products with 10 percent or less of DEET are recommended for children.-Make certain that doors and windows have tight-fitting screens. Repair or replace screens that have tears or holes in them.-Drain all standing water on private property, no matter how small an amount.-Stock permanent ponds or fountains with fish that eat mosquito larvae.-Change water in birdbaths or wading pools and empty flowerpot saucers of standing water at least once a week.-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 flats roofs.-Remove items that could collect water such as old tires, buckets, empty cans and food and beverage containers.Pape explained that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and local health departments throughout Colorado already have taken steps and precautions to identify West Nile virus and to protect Coloradans from the disease.In June, the Colorado Board of Health made West Nile virus a reportable disease in Colorado so that all human cases of the disease will be reported immediately to state health officials. Cases of the disease involving horses also are monitored.Pape said that for the past several years, 23 chicken flocks, located strategically across the state, have been checked frequently from May through September for mosquito-related diseases, including West Nile virus, Western Equine encephalitis and St. Louis encephalitis. 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.Corvids, a family of birds that includes crows, magpies, ravens and jays, that have died within the previous 48 hours are collected and submitted for testing to the State Department of Public Health and Environment’s laboratory by local health departments, county public health nursing services and local animal control agencies.Information on testing of dead birds can be obtained from local health departments and county public health nursing services across Colorado.Pape emphasized that the dead birds of concern do not include sparrows, starlings, pigeons, finches, robins and blackbirds.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 website at http://www.cdphe.state.co.us


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