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State health department identifies case of West Nile virus in La Plata County

San Juan Basin Public Health offers guidance on how to mitigate contact with mosquitoes
San Juan Basin Public Health said on Friday a case of West Nile virus was identified in La Plata County by the state health department. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recently identified a case of West Nile virus, a neurological disease primarily spread by mosquito bites, in La Plata County, according to a San Juan Basin Public Health news release on Friday.

The health department is recommending ways to mitigate mosquitoes.

Most people infected by the West Nile virus will never realize they have it. SJBPH said four out of five people infected with the disease don’t get sick or experience just mild symptoms. In severe cases, however, brain infection such as meningitis or encephalitis can occur. Symptoms can include high fevers, headaches that progress to stiffness in the neck, disorientation, tremors and coma.

The onset of symptoms can range from two to 14 days, the release says.

“People with certain medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease and people who have received organ transplants are at greater risk of severe illness,” the release said.

Dire cases can result in permanent brain damage or death. A vaccine doesn’t exist for the West Nile virus and supportive care for patients is the only treatment available, the release said. People experiencing symptoms of West Nile or who think they or a loved one has the disease should contact a health care provider.

Mosquitoes are the common vector of West Nile and spread the viral disease when they bite humans. People age 60 and older or who have certain medical conditions are at greater risk, SJBPH said.

The health department urges the use of insect repellents, particularly those “containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone products” when outside to keep mosquitoes at bay.

Mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn, and loose-fitting, long-sleeved clothing can protect from bites on the limbs or torso during those hours. The use of insect repellent is still encouraged, SJBPH says.

The health department recommends emptying water from any objects that could collect standing water where mosquito larvae flourish. Tires, cans, flowerpots, clogged gutters, rain barrels, birdbaths, toys and puddles are common breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The health department recommends maintaining such items by emptying water from them at least once a week.

According to Terminex’s website, mosquito larvae resemble small, hairy worms under a quarter inch long. They have round heads, soft bodies and abdomens with 10 segments.

SJBPH also recommends repairing screens on windows and doors at the home or office.

To learn more about the symptoms, treatments and other information about West Nile virus, visit SJBPH. Communicable diseases information is also available from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More information about how the health department responds to communicable diseases is available at SJBPH’s website, the state health department’s website or the CDS website.

A La Plata County resident died in late September after contracting West Nile virus in 2022, The Durango Herald previously reported. The death marked the 10th death statewide that year.