Delta County tops state in number of West Nile cases

Mosquito (Culex pipiens) profile

It was a tough year in Delta County for West Nile virus.

The county reported its 35th case of the year Oct. 24, the most in the state, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Colorado has 115 reported cases. Mesa County reported six for the late summer season.

Delta County has had two deaths related to the virus this year.

"It's really crazy how it has developed this year," Delta County Environmental Health Director Kenneth Nordstrom said.

Delta had more cases in 2019 than it did between 2013 and 2018 combined.

However, the county has seen some high numbers in the past, Nordstrom said, with 36 cases in 2012 and 34 in 2006. The virus first started popping up in Colorado in the early 2000s.

Dr. Jennifer House with the state health department said it is difficult to predict how many cases will arise in a particular area or why one area sees more than another. But Delta County typically has one of the higher counts of West Nile.

With recent cold temperatures throughout the state, West Nile season is likely over for 2019, House said. Most cases are reported in August and September.

West Nile virus is transmitted to humans from the culex mosquito, which is one of multiple varieties found in both Mesa and Delta counties.

Symptoms for the virus include fever, rash and joint pain that can last from two days to two weeks. More severe symptoms can consist of high fever, stiff neck and swelling around the brain.

A low percentage of those infected ever develop symptoms. About one in 150 develop severe symptoms. Most severe cases occur in adults over the age of 50, Nordstrom said.

However, he added it's a virus that should be taken seriously.

"I think people underestimate the risk of the disease. It's just so debilitating," Nordstrom said. "I think people really need to understand how serious it is."

Recovery can take about a week in mild cases, but the effects of severe cases can linger for some time.

Both Delta and Mesa county health departments provide information on how to reduce the risk of contracting the virus, such as applying bug spray when heading outdoors, wearing long sleeves and avoiding dawn and dusk hours when mosquitoes are most active.

Residents were also encouraged to drain any standing water near their property, which can attract the insects.

Both counties also partner with mosquito control districts.

Mesa County works with Grand River Mosquito Control, which placed 83 traps around the county and monitored roughly 10,000 active breeding areas.

Delta County works with the North Fork Mosquito Abatement District and Nordstrom said there was also spraying in the Town of Cedaredge.

Neither county has complete coverage through any district.

Nordstrom said the virus was spread throughout areas in districts and those outside districts.

He noted that more can be done and recommended the county launch a district that would cover all of Delta County.

Such a district would have to be created through an election, he said.

"We need to step up our outreach efforts," he said.

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