Skeeters not here in force yet

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— West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes have not made a noticable appearance in Routt County this summer.

At least, that's an early conclusion based on the first information from the county's new mosquito traps.

The species of mosquito that typically carries West Nile virus -- Culix tarsalis -- has not been found in great numbers in the bug traps, which have been operating since mid-June, Routt County Environmental Health Director Michael Zopf said. The few mosquitoes of that species that were collected tested negative for West Nile.

But that doesn't mean people should neglect the mosquito repellant and other precautions, Zopf said.

"People shouldn't take this as a sign that we're out of the woods yet," Zopf said. "They definitely need to adhere to the recommendations that we've been making all along."

Those recommendations center on avoiding bug bites: wearing long sleeves, draining standing water, using insecticides and staying inside at dusk and dawn.

The county is not in the clear because, as summer continues, populations of Culix tarsalis mosquitoes could increase, Zopf said. There also is a chance that the insects could be prevalent where people are living, working and recreating, but where traps are not set up, he said.

So far this year, one raptor was found infected with the virus. The goshawk was found dead on a deck in Hahn's Peak in early July.

Cool temperatures in June kept mosquito populations low, although the wet weather encouraged population growth, Zopf said. As the summer warms, more mosquitoes are expected.

The few Culix tarsalis mosquitoes found so far were trapped near the Yampa River State Park, Zopf said.

The data is important because it gives officials an idea of how many Culix tarsalis mosquitoes are in the county, and whether they are more common in certain areas, Zopf said. The data also helps individual communities gauge their own mosquito abatement efforts.

"We're just trying to understand to the best we can what risks we have dealing with mosquitoes in general," Zopf said.

Through a $3,300 grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, traps have been set up in Yampa, Oak Creek, the Steamboat Springs area and Hayden. They are turned on for one day a week, but local officials can turn them on for more days if they feel the information would be helpful. Most of the traps attract the bugs with a light and some carbon dioxide gas, then pull them into a bag with a fan.

West Nile virus was found for the first time in Routt County last summer when one horse and one bird in the county tested positive. Local health officials said it was likely that the horse contracted the virus while in the Front Range area. Nearby Moffat County had two confirmed human infections last summer.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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