Health officials: West Nile risk not high in Aspen |

Health officials: West Nile risk not high in Aspen

Pitkin County probably wont see large numbers of West Nile-carrying mosquitoes this summer, but that doesnt mean residents will be safe from the disease. Any county resident who travels to lower elevations this summer is at risk.That was the focus of a recent meeting of city, county and state health representatives to discuss the upcoming West Nile season. West Nile is carried by a certain species of mosquito that rarely survives above 8,000 feet. Monitoring by city and county health officials over the past two years confirmed that very few of such mosquitoes breed in the high altitude of Pitkin County.But as state health officials brace for outbreaks of the virus at lower elevations, Pitkin County officials will try to encourage residents traveling to lower elevations this summer to take precautions against mosquito bites.People traveling to lower elevations are a much bigger risk for us than a local outbreak. We need to focus on the traveler, Pitkin County community relations director Nan Sundeen said.Do you need to wear repellent when you go to Wall Mart [in Glenwood Springs]? Well, thats exactly when you have to wear repellent, county Director of Public Health Yvonne Hernandez said.West Nile virus produces symptoms in about 20 percent of infected people. Only one in 150 patients becomes seriously ill. In rare cases, West Nile can cause meningitis and encephalitis, two extremely dangerous forms of brain inflammation. The virus appears in Colorado from April to mid-September during mosquito-hatching season.But last year, only 274 people were infected in the state, compared to 3,000 in 2003. However, more than 50 percent of the cases reported were on the Western Slope. Although Pitkin County reported no human cases, a dead bird recovered near Lazy Glen tested positive for the virus in August.To monitor the disease, health officials will continue to trap and test mosquitoes in Pitkin County. Dead birds, particularly magpies, will be tested for the disease as they often are harbingers of a human outbreak.County officials will also institute a larvacide program in lakes, pools and standing water. Larvaciding, which kills mosquitoes before they hatch, will be focused on waters below 8,000 feet and near population centers, particularly Carbondale.Officials said residents should be careful when traveling to lower elevations, including off-season trips to Moab, Utah, and Grand Junction. Long sleeves should be worn at dawn and dusk when mosquitos like to feed. Repellent should be worn on exposed skin.Residents staying at home should report large numbers of mosquitoes or any dead birds to local health agencies. Homeowners should try to avoid the buildup of stagnant water pools that can provide hatcheries for the bugs and should routinely empty outdoor pots, wheelbarrows and other containers where rainwater collects.If you are seeing a lot of mosquitoes, give us a call, Aspens director of environmental health, CJ Oliver, said.Eben Harrells e-mail address is

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