Residents brace for mosquito season

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For Ann Martin, mosquito season is a time for vigilance. That means never going outdoors without repellant and long sleeves and keeping her son out of the grass, where mosquitoes take refuge during the day.

She wasn't always like that. For a long time, Martin, who grew up on a dairy farm, was accustomed to the annoying summer pests and their bites.

"We were farmers. ... We lived around mosquitoes -- it wasn't a big deal to us," she said.

That changed in 2002, when her 57-year-old father, who lived north of Denver, came home from work with a dozen mosquito bites. He lapsed into a six-month battle with West Nile virus that paralyzed part of his body, spurred severe pneumonia, a stroke, respiratory arrest and took away his motor skills.

He weighed 89 pounds when he died.

"Watching my Dad go through what he did was horrible," Martin said. "I would just hate to see someone here go through that."

As mosquito swarms thicken and Hayden heads into what looks to be a particularly bad mosquito season, Martin warns against lackadaisical attitudes toward the virus.

"I just want people to know, we didn't think it would happen to my family," she said. "We live in Hayden, a beautiful place where you want to be outside, but all that can change with one bite."

Martin's father was one of 63 people who died of the virus in Colorado in 2003, when almost 2,950 cases were reported in the state, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Although the overall number of cases and deaths dropped dramatically last year, the number of infected individuals in Mesa County jumped from 19 to 127 cases -- by far the most in any county.

That's good reason to take the virus seriously, said Heather Savalox, Routt County environmental health specialist.

"That's kind of the fear," Savalox said. "We know it's on the Western Slope."

While there have been no reports of the virus in humans in Routt County, West Nile was found in two birds here last year -- a raptor near Steamboat Lake and a sage grouse in the southern part of the county.

Routt County began monitoring and trapping mosquitoes in six sites -- including three sites in West Routt -- about two weeks ago.

So far, the traps have come up empty, although Savalox expects that to change this week.

After many calls and complaints about mosquitoes -- first in the Golden Meadows area and then downtown -- Hayden arranged for aerial spraying last Friday for the second time this year.

The town sprayed three times last summer.

The aerial spraying is in addition to the spreading of larvicide in larvae-prone areas in town -- which are more abundant because of the wet spring, said Town Manager Russ Martin, Ann Martin's husband.

The combination of lower elevation and higher temperatures, as well as flood irrigation and tall grasses, makes for ideal mosquito conditions in Hayden, Savalox said.

This year, the moist meadows and grasses have provided more places for mosquitoes to seek refuge until kicked up by unsuspecting people.

"I think it's a misconception that they are just out at dust and dawn. They are worse then, but we recommend wearing insect repellant at all times outdoors for protection," Savalox said.

Hayden, which takes West Nile "very seriously," has budgeted for five aerial sprayings this summer. Still, it's important residents take precautions, including draining standing water and keeping grass and weeds trimmed, Russ Martin said.

"Each and every person needs to take responsibility for their own protection," he said.

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares, call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com.

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