West Nile virus could bite hard in Aspen next year, officials say
September 14, 2003
West Nile Virus never gained much of a foothold in Aspen and Pitkin County this summer, but local residents may not be so lucky next year.
“The second year it’s in a place, it tends to be more severe,” noted Lee Cassin, the city’s environmental health director.
It reached the Front Range late last summer and its impact was fairly light, agreed Carla Block, environmental health specialist for the county. This year, Colorado in general and the Front Range in particular were hard hit by the potentially fatal disease.
As of late last week, Colorado had seen 1,425 confirmed human cases of West Nile – the most of any state – and 26 deaths.
“We’re preparing for the worst,” Block said.
Mosquito trapping efforts in and around Aspen never did yield a single culex tarsallis – the species of mosquito most likely to bring the disease to Aspen.
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It feeds on both animals and humans, so it could transmit West Nile from an infected bird, for example, to a person; the question has been whether or not it lives at higher elevations.
Though they weren’t trapped in Aspen, they have been found elsewhere at high elevations and probably exist here, too, Cassin said.
“There’s no reason in the world that they wouldn’t be here,” she said.
Pitkin County did find the culex tarsallis in its trapping program, though in considerably fewer numbers than they were being caught elsewhere in the state.
The county sent two batches of mosquitoes in for testing; results for West Nile were negative, according to Block. A dead magpie in Emma and a dead horse in Snowmass Village, however, both tested positive for the disease this summer. Health officials believe the horse contracted the disease in Snowmass, which is slightly higher in elevation than Aspen.
Throat swabs from two other dead birds, one found in Snowmass Village