Officials monitor mosquitoes

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Summertime means mosquito time, and county officials are keeping an eye out for West Nile Virus.

The Routt County Envir--onmental Health Department will begin monitoring mosquitoes next week to see whether they are carrying the virus. Mosquitoes already are in the west part of Routt County and have started to appear in the Steamboat area, Routt County Environmental Health Director Michael Zopf said.

It is hard to predict how prevalent West Nile Virus will be this year, Zopf said. Comparing cases of West Nile Virus in 2003 to 2004 suggests the virus is easing, he said. In 2003, there were 2,947 reported human infections statewide and 62 deaths from the virus. In 2004, there were 291 reported human infections and only four deaths.

Although it looks as if 2003 could end up being the peak year for Colorado, West Nile Virus still is present. People need to be vigilant and protect themselves from mosquitoes that could be carrying the virus, Zopf said.

"The people who have gotten this disease and experienced symptoms have suffered greatly," he said.

In addition to wearing insect repellent and long sleeves, when possible, Zopf encouraged people to drain standing water around their homes to limit mosquito reproduction. Birdbaths, fountains and other water features should be drained every five days or should be treated with a mosquito larvicide.

West Nile Virus infects birds but is transmitted to people by mosquitoes that have bitten infected birds.

Last summer, two birds were found infected with West Nile Virus in Routt County -- a raptor in the Steamboat Lake area and a sage grouse in the southern part of the county. The virus first was seen in Routt County in the summer of 2003.

This summer, the county will continue the mosquito-sampling program it began last year, in which mosquitoes are trapped once a week in several places throughout the county. The number and types of mosquitoes trapped are recorded, and mosquitoes of the species that typically carries West Nile Virus are tested for the virus. Last year, two such species were trapped and tested negative. The monitoring is expected to continue through August.

Zopf said that people who find a dead bird, especially a corvid such as a raven, crow or magpie, should alert the county. County officials will test the birds for West Nile Virus.

All horses should be vaccinated for West Nile Virus, Routt County Agricultural Extension Agent C.J. Mucklow said. It's not too late to vaccinate horses for this summer, and all veterinarians have the vaccine.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail scunningham@steamboatpilot.com

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