Every summer, high mosquito numbers in Colorado means residents infected with West Nile Virus and the need for proactive prevention. 131 cases of the illness, including five deaths, were confirmed statewide in 2012. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment could not immediately be reached for the latest figure of confirmed cases statewide, but CBS Denver on Tuesday reported 46 cases across Colorado.
Larimer County, which includes the northern towns of Fort Collins and Loveland, has been one of the hardest hit counties this year, and numbers are expected to increase as cases are confirmed and mosquito numbers remain elevated.
Public Health Information Manager for Larimer County Jane Viste tells Examiner today that as of Thursday, Aug. 22, 35 cases of West Nile have been confirmed with more pending. That number is up from the 30 reported by The Denver Post at the beginning of the week.
An important date when it comes to susceptibility is the first frost, typically mid-September for Larimer County, when the weather cools and infected culex mosquitoes thrive less and less. Preventative action to avoid being bitten up until this time is a must. However, due to the lag time it takes for symptoms to appear and cases to be reported and confirmed, numbers are likely to still come in after the first frost comes and goes.
"The cases that are being reported to us now were likely bitten up to 3 weeks ago," Viste says. "So, this is why we urge people and communities to take protective action while the mosquito numbers are high. If people wait until they see numbers of people with the infection climbing in order to take preventive action, that timing is late for taking the best preventive measures."
Although entities such as CDPHE have a number of resources to inform Coloradans on ways to prevent infection, such as the 'Fight the Bite' campaign, Viste noted seeing very little visible concern over how to prevent being bitten. The 2010 Community Health Survey done by the Health District of Northern Larimer County indicated that 2/3 of county residents seldom or never use mosquito repellent when outdoors.
37.8% of survey respondents also said they were concerned "a little" about being infected with West Nile, while 42.7% were not concerned at all. The survey is done every three years and allows officials to monitor trends in data such as West Nile preparedness. Later this fall, the next edition of the survey will also reveal whether or not preparedness improved or not during this current West Nile season.
CDPHE suggests limiting outdoor activity at dawn and dusk, wearing lightweight protective clothing, and applying insect repellent to exposed skin when outdoors to prevent infection.