Steamboat Springs The first case of the West Nile virus was identified in Northwest Colorado Friday.
The virus was found in the blood of a horse on the eastern edge of Craig. The horse was euthanized Sept. 13 and blood samples were sent to the Greeley Environmental Health lab. Those results were released Friday morning and public health officials were alerted that afternoon.
The Moffat County horse marked the second case of the disease on the Western Slope since the virus arrived in Colorado this year. Two dead starlings found in Mesa County tested positive for the disease and marked the spread of the mosquito-borne illness across the Continental Divide.
No other blood samples from Routt or Moffat counties have been sent to the Greeley lab for testing, said Pam Nettleton, a public health nurse for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.
And veterinarian Stacy Hudelson, who treated the infected horse, said she has not seen nor heard of similar cases in animals in Moffat County.
On Tuesday, the first human case of the disease in Colorado was reported in Adams County, and 24 other counties in the state have detected the virus in horses and birds.
Public health officials in Routt and Moffat counties said they have been preparing for the West Nile virus but were hoping it would not reach Northwest Colorado until the spring.
"We have expected it all summer. Doctors were geared up and ready to go," Nettleton said.
As freezing temperatures move into the area, the mosquitoes are preparing for hibernation and are less likely to bite humans or animals, said Susan Bowler, the VNA's public health manager.
"The good thing is we are approaching the end of the mosquito season. Temperatures are lower and mosquitoes are eating nectar instead of blood," Bowler said. "So the risk of humans getting it is very low."
Statistics show that one in five people infected with the West Nile virus run a low-grade fever with flu-like symptoms. One in 150 people infected with the disease experience encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, and meningitis, or inflammation around the brain.
Of patients hospitalized, 0.6 percent have died in the 2002 West Nile virus season.
Horses are at greater risk.
Hudelson said officials decided to euthanize the Moffat County horse last week after the owner found the animal down and unable to get up. Never seeing the disease before, Hudelson said the West Nile virus was not the first diagnosis, but blood samples were taken after the horse was put down.
She said with horses, the West Nile virus could be fatal in 30 percent to 40 percent of all cases. Veterinarians in Routt and Moffat counties have been giving vaccines to horses over the summer. But the vaccines have not been fully tested.
"We were hoping that we weren't going to get any clinical cases until the spring. We were hoping we would miss this bout of it," Hudelson said.
Although the current mosquito season is only one strong frost away from ending, Nettleton said county commissioners should start planning mosquito controls for next spring, when the virus will re-emerge and have an entire season to spread.
The West Nile virus was first identified in the United States during the summer of 1999 in New York City and then spread along the East Coast and into Massachusetts during 2000 and 2001.
The disease is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito and can infect people, horses, many types of birds and some other animals.
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