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West Nile has Aspen on guard

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

City and county officials are vigilantly testing mosquitoes to look for signs of the West Nile virus as the illness continues to take a toll on the state.

A Boulder woman has become the fifth Coloradan to die this year of West Nile, and the eighth fatality reported nationwide.

The 67-year-old woman who died six days after the onset of a fever, disorientation and fatigue had West Nile virus, Boulder County health officials confirmed Saturday.

West Nile has been reported on the West Slope, and the mosquito species that can carry the virus, culex tarsalis, has been found in Pitkin County. Last week the first positive case in Garfield County was found in a dead magpie in Battlement Mesa.

In Aspen, Environmental Health Director Lee Cassin said two types of mosquito traps are checked four times a week. One trap attracts the insect with light, the other with rotten organic matter that a mosquito can lay eggs in.

Some nights the traps yield no mosquitoes at all, and the most mosquitoes caught in one trap on a night in Aspen was 36, Cassin said. No culex tarsalis mosquitoes have been found in Aspen.

But that’s not the case for Pitkin County. Miles Stotts of the county’s Environmental Health Department said culex tarsalis have been trapped in the county, but none have tested positive for the virus. The county sets up trap sites near known wetlands and marshy areas that are potential breeding grounds for the insects.

Birds such as jays, magpies, crows and ravens are most susceptible to the virus, but Stotts said no bird that’s been found dead has yet tested positive.

The city’s Environmental Health Department is also keeping track of dead birds, but Cassin said not many have been reported.

“The mosquito that by and large can carry the virus does not seem to live above 7,500 feet,” Stotts said. “Of the 1,500 mosquitoes that Pitkin County has looked at under the microscope, only 23 were the species that carries West Nile, and none tested positive.”

Yvonne Hernandez, director of Pitkin County Community Health, has been trying to stay abreast of any rumors or talk of the virus. That includes when there is talk of someone who may have obtained the virus elsewhere but is visiting Aspen – even though the virus cannot be passed from person to person.

“We haven’t had anyone in this area who has had the virus, but we’re following up on everything,” Hernandez said. “Of course everyone is concerned, especially with the number [of reported cases] in the state climbing up.”

Prevention methods to lower the risk of being bit by a mosquito that carries the virus include getting rid of any standing water where the insects can breed. That includes clogged roof gutters or plant saucers.

Cassin also recommends not over-irrigating lawns so there are no soggy areas, and cleaning out and refilling bird baths daily.

Hernandez said people who are outside when mosquitoes are most active – early morning or dusk – should wear insect repellent and long-sleeved shirts in light colors. Dark colors attract mosquitoes, she said.

For up-to-date information on the West Nile virus, visit http://www.fightthebitecolorado.com.

Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com


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