Bird, horse test positive for West Nile |

Bird, horse test positive for West Nile

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A dead magpie found in Basalt and a paralyzed horse in Snowmass Village have tested positive for the West Nile virus, local health officials say. They are Pitkin County’s first confirmed cases of the disease.

The magpie was found last Tuesday between Highway 82 and Emma Road. Positive test results were returned to the county on Thursday, said Nancy MacKenzie of the Pitkin County Environmental Health Department.

The infected horse, recently loaned to the Snowmass Village Rodeo from the Brentis Rodeo Co. of Fruita, was tested for the disease last Tuesday when it was discovered paralyzed in its pen. Carbondale veterinarian Dr. John Canning received positive test results Friday, and the horse was euthanized by its owner.

No human cases have been reported locally – but residents should be on the alert, MacKenzie said.

“This positive bird provides a good opportunity to remind everyone how important it is to take precautions against being stung by the mosquitoes that carry this virus,” she wrote in a press release issued Friday.

The mosquito in question, culex tarsalis, is the primary carrier of the disease. It has been trapped locally, but not in large numbers, MacKenzie said.

Miles Stotts, who also works in the county’s environmental health office, said last week that the culex tarsalis rarely lives above 7,500 feet.

“We don’t think it’s a big deal because we don’t have that many mosquitoes here,” MacKenzie agreed Sunday. “The Front Range has been finding thousands and thousands of the mosquitoes that are potential carriers. We’ve found 15 to 20.”

None of the mosquitoes trapped in the county have tested positive for the West Nile virus, MacKenzie said.

Still, the county has promoted the use of Deet insect repellent for those spending time outdoors. Health officials have also asked residents to report sightings of dead magpies, ravens, jays and crows, the animals most susceptible to the West Nile virus, so the county can continue its monitoring of the disease.

Residents should also monitor their health closely this summer, MacKenzie said. West Nile infections appear as mild symptoms such as fever, headache, body ache, and the occasional skin rash or swollen lymph node. Severe cases of West Nile can appear as encephalitis or meningitis, and can be fatal.

Seven Colorado residents infected with West Nile have died this summer. So far this year, health officials have confirmed 299 cases across the country.

“We remind the public that most people have no symptoms of the disease and most often recover without even knowing they’ve had it,” MacKenzie said. “The elderly are at the highest risk and should take simple precautions from being bitten by mosquitoes.”

For more information on the West Nile virus, visit the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Web site at

Carrie Click of The Glenwood Springs Post Independent contributed to this report.

Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is

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