Steamboat Springs Health officials are urging Routt County residents to protect themselves against the deadly West Nile virus by being cautious when outside and ridding the area of mosquito breeding grounds.
Suzi Mariano, spokeswoman for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, said residents should wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, socks and shoes when outside at dawn and dusk -- the most likely times to be bitten by a mosquito. Residents also are encouraged to clean out gutters and other places where pools of standing water serve as prime habitat for mosquito breeding.
West Nile is a virus carried by birds and transmitted to people from mosquitoes that have fed on the blood of infected birds. The species of mosquito that carries West Nile usually emerges in April or May when temperatures begin to rise.
Although there were no reported cases of West Nile virus in Routt County last year, Mariano said residents still need to be aware that the virus can be contracted in Northwest Colorado.
Mariano said several cases of West Nile virus were reported in Mesa County last year, which means infected birds or mosquitoes potentially could infect residents in surrounding areas.
In 2005, 106 cases of West Nile were reported across Colorado. In 2004, 291 cases were reported statewide, including four deaths.
"It's a concern every year. We try to get the word out early so people will know what they can do to avoid it," Mariano said. "We encourage people to be proactive and to start thinking about it right now."
Mariano said symptoms of the infection usually appear three to 14 days after a bite. Symptoms include headache, fever, body ache, rashes and swollen lymph nodes. People older than 50 are more susceptible to infection, Mariano said.
"If you were to see any of these symptoms, you should contact your medical health provider," she said.
Most cases of the virus are not fatal, and less than 1 percent of bites result in infection, Mariano said.
Residents concerned about West Nile virus can remove mosquito breeding grounds by discarding old tires and flowerpots in addition to maintaining swimming pools and other bodies of water. Mosquito activity is most prevalent at dusk and dawn, times when outdoor activity should be avoided.
When outside, people should cover their bodies with light, loose-fitting clothes and use mosquito repellents that contain DEET, picardin or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Repellents with DEET generally provide longer protection.
Residents who come in contact with dead wild birds or who would like to report sick or dying birds in poultry flocks are asked to call the Colorado Emergency Line for the Public at (877) 462-2911. Staff are available from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The hotline is operated by the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Control Center and is under contract to the Department of Public Health and Environment's Emergency Preparedness and Response Program.