It's time to heed Routt County Environmental Health Department Director Mike Zopf's advice: "Be vigilant. Be careful and eliminate mosquito habitat."
State and county health officials confirmed Routt County's first case of West Nile Virus in a bird on Monday. The infected raptor was a goshawk that was found dead on a deck in Hahn's Peak, near Steamboat Lake, last week.
Four suspect birds from Routt County have been sent to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for West Nile Virus testing in 2004. That includes a magpie found at the Steamboat Ski Area on Monday.
Routt County reported one bird that tested positive for the virus in 2003.
"We're hoping this is an indication that West Nile is possible, but that there are not a major number of cases," Zopf said. June's cooler temperatures kept mosquitoes from breeding in the area, but recent high temperatures mean mosquito populations likely will increase throughout the summer, he said.
Dead birds that test positive for West Nile Virus are an early warning sign that West Nile Virus is in an area. Birds spread the virus across long distances, and mosquitoes that bite the birds spread the virus locally to other animals and humans.
In humans, symptoms caused by West Nile Virus include fever, headache, body ache, skin rash and occasionally swollen lymph nodes. More severe symptoms may include neck stiffness, stupor, dementia, disorientation, coma, tremors, muscle weakness or convulsions, according to a county health notice.
"If you're one of the unlucky few who get this, it can be devastating," Zopf said.
The best prevention against West Nile Virus is to wear mosquito repellent containing DEET, wear pants and long-sleeved shirts when mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk and eliminate even the smallest amounts of standing water where mosquitoes can breed.
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