West Nile virus detected; record high in mosquitoes

Zane McCallister, district manager of the Grand River Mosquito Control District, checks a ladle of swamp water from a pool below the Riverside Parkway and Fifth Street bridge for mosquito larvae on Thursday.

More Mesa County mosquitoes tested positive for West Nile virus than ever before, the consequence of an early spring and recent heavy rains, Grand River Mosquito Control District General Manager Zane McCallister said.

Of the 18 mosquito samples collected last week, nine tested positive for the virus, a non-treatable illness that can cause flu-like symptoms or worse, Mesa County Health Department spokeswoman Veronica Daehn Harvey said.

“We have a lot of mosquitoes,” Mesa County Health Department epidemiologist Thomas Orr said. “The number of Culex mosquitoes that transmit the disease are quite a bit higher than average.”

So far this year, no one in Mesa County has tested positive for the disease, but McCallister said there is normally a lag of about three weeks between the time the virus shows up in mosquitoes and the time a confirmed case is reported among humans.

In addition to the record number of mosquitoes that tested positive last week, the virus appeared almost a month earlier than normal, he said.

Last year, the county reported 12 confirmed cases of the disease, a much lower tally than in 2004 when 127 confirmed cases were reported.

Residents should take extra precautions to avoid mosquito bites, Harvey said.

Monsoon rains help create ideal conditions for the winged insects to multiply, and standing water is the problem, McCallister said.

“Every puddle, every tire track has water in it,” he said. “We have found mosquitoes inhabiting everything. Mosquitoes are taking every opportunity to lay their eggs.”

“I’m concerned,” he said — so concerned he won approval Wednesday from the district’s board to take as much as $50,000 from reserve funds to hire more staff to better combat the insects.

“We’re going to spend whatever it takes,” McCallister said.

The expenditure became necessary partly because county residents voted in November to expand the boundaries of the mosquito control district.

Though the number of taxpayers and geographic territory of the district increased significantly as a result of the election, Colorado will not begin remitting sales tax to cover the extra expense until 2014, McCallister said.


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