Wednesday, August 28, 2002
Steamboat Springs Routt County officials are testing dead birds to determine if the West Nile Virus has moved west across the Continental Divide.
State officials consider birds in the Corvidae family (crows, magpies and ravens) as highly sensitive to West Nile Virus. Employees at Routt County Environmental Health are instructed to keep an eye out for recently dead or dying birds in that family with the hopes of collecting them to send for testing.
"We've had a number of people call us about the birds," Routt County Environmental Health Director Mike Zopf said.
He said he was surprised by how well educated the public is about the virus. Many people know the type of birds that could be carrying the virus.
In all, the agency has made 10 visits to look at dead birds. Two of the birds were killed within 48 hours, which meets the specification for testing. They were sent to the state health department for testing.
Test results haven't come back, but Zopf said there's no indication that the virus would have moved this far west.
Local veterinarian Mike Gotchey echoed those sentiments.
"I don't think we are at risk of getting it this year," he said.
The virus spreads by mosquitoes and the mosquito season is pretty much over at this elevation, Gotchey said.
Plus, birds migrate out of higher elevations this time of the year, bringing down the chances of an infected bird flying the virus in, he said.
This is what Gotchey is instructed to tell horse owners interested in buying the West Nile vaccination for their animals. The shot is a conditional approval vaccination because its side effects haven't been completely tested.
Gotchey tells the buyers the risks of the vaccination and the chances of the animal getting West Nile Virus without the shot.
Though any animal, as well as humans, can get the virus, horses appear to be the most susceptible mammal.
Of the 33 cases of West Nile found in Colorado, 27 have been in horses and six in birds, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. None of the confirmed cases in Colorado are west of the Front Range.
Still, horse owners have been interested in the vaccination.
"We sell a lot of it," Gotchey said.