An ounce of prevention

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As the toll from the West Nile virus in Colorado continues to mount, we urge the federal government to continue its financial support for mosquito spraying and residents to take the precautions necessary to prevent contracting the virus.

On Friday, a 79-year-old Fremont County woman who had been hospitalized for encephalitis died, becoming the state's eighth victim of West Nile virus. All the fatalities have been in people 68 or older.

As of Friday, when 92 news cases were confirmed, the state had identified 638 cases of West Nile virus in humans. Most of those victims suffered little more than flulike symptoms. However, about 140 cases involve meningitis or encephalitis, which causes swelling of the spinal cord or brain and can prove fatal.

No state is suffering like Colorado, which accounts for the majority of cases of West Nile virus nationally. Nationwide, there have been 14 deaths and 715 human cases of West Nile reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The virus is taking its toll on animals as well, killing four animals at the Denver Zoo last week and infecting four of the falcons used as mascots at the Air Force Academy.

Routt County has not had a human case, but it appears it merely is a matter of time. Last week, tests on a raven found dead on Village Drive near Mount Werner were positive for West Nile, the first sign of the virus here. Neighboring Moffat County has had positive tests in animals and Summit and Delta counties have identified cases in humans.

Officials warn the worst is yet to come. With mosquito season expected to peak during the next three to four weeks, cases of the mosquito-borne illness are expected to rise on the Front Range and Western Slope.

We applaud the federal government's quick response to provide Colorado with $500,000 for insecticides and mosquito spraying, and we hope there's more where that came from as needs arise. Sen. Wayne Allard and U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis are to be applauded for their work to secure funding to combat the disease.

But while federal funds to battle West Nile are key, more important are the steps we can take.

"There is no cure for West Nile Virus," said Tim O'Brien, the regional epidemiologist for Northwest Colorado. "Once you get it, you may be lucky and have no symptoms, or you may be unlucky and get a severe disease and, rarely, die. ... The only way to deal with it is prevention."

By now, the steps are well known, but they are worth repeating as we head into the worst of the West Nile season. Use repellent containing DEET on exposed skin when outside. Wear protective clothing. Limit outside activity during peak mosquito times such as dawn and dusk. Drain standing water. Remember that small children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to effects of the disease.

With eight people dead and hundreds of others ill, Coloradans cannot afford to be complacent. It is our responsibility to do all that we can to prevent West Nile from becoming a worse tragedy than it already is.

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