53-year-old Weld County resident dies after contracting West Nile virus The Denver Post

A 53-year-old Weld County resident who had been hospitalized with West Nile virus has died, the county announced Friday.

The death is the state’s first West Nile virus death of 2023, according to a state news release. Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said the trends in the state’s West Nile virus tracking data are “unprecedented.”

The county said in a news release in late July that officials were investigating the county’s first potential human case of West Nile virus of 2023. So far, officials have investigated eight cases of West Nile in Weld residents.

The residents who tested positive for the virus represent a wide geographical area, according to the county. Mosquitoes in all three zones monitored by the county have tested positive.

West Nile virus is endemic in Colorado, meaning people can contract the virus anywhere infected mosquitoes live and breed. Health department investigators anticipate more human infections as the mosquito season continues.

The state reports 12 people have been infected with West Nile so far this year. Three were hospitalized, and two developed neurologic symptoms. Three of the 12 cases were located in Weld, and another three were in Larimer County. Boulder, Adams and Arapahoe counties have each recorded one case, as well.

The state news release noted there were just three cases reported last week and that the 12 cases is more than would typically be reported at this time of year. A typical season runs from May through October, according to the state.

West Nile has been found in mosquitoes in eight of the 11 counties that have tested mosquitoes this season, including Weld, Larimer, Adams, Denver, Boulder, Arapahoe, Pueblo and Delta counties. The state said “unusually high levels of infection in the Culex mosquitoes that carry the virus” have been reported. The heavy precipitation this winter and spring has likely caused the abundance of Culex mosquitoes this season, according to the state.

“The number of West Nile virus-infected mosquitoes we’ve detected this season is the highest we’ve seen in years,” Herlihy said in the release. “This is especially concerning now that August is here and September is just around the corner, as this is usually when human cases peak in Colorado.”

In 2022, 206 cases of West Nile were recorded throughout the state. Of those, 143 were hospitalized, 120 developed neurologic symptoms and 20 died.

About 80% of infected people don’t develop symptoms, but symptoms can appear two to 14 days after infection. Initial symptoms can include fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches, joint pain, weakness and a rash. Anyone who develops symptoms including a fever with severe headaches or confusion after being bitten by a mosquito is advised to see a health care professional immediately.

Less than 1% of people infected with the virus develop an illness that attacks the central nervous system and can be fatal, which was the case for the 53-year-old resident who was killed. About 1 in 10 who develop severe illness affecting the central nervous system die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People 60 and older and those with medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease and organ transplant recipients are at a greater risk of serious illness.

The city of Greeley and the town of Windsor announced programs to control mosquito populations are underway this summer. Both municipalities contract with Vector Disease Control International to monitor for mosquitoes at traps located throughout the area and spray for both larvae and adult mosquitoes as needed.

State officials announced this past Friday the state’s first equine case of West Nile of the year was found in a Weld County gelding that developed neurologic symptoms and was euthanized.

There are no medications to treat nor vaccines to prevent West Nile infection in people. County officials encourage residents to follow the “four Ds” to prevent mosquito bites as the season continues:

  • Drain standing water;
  • Dusk and dawn are when Culex mosquitoes, which carry West Nile, are most active, so take precautions during these times;
  • DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol are effective ingredients in insect repellents;
  • Dress in long sleeves, pants and a hat in areas where mosquitoes are active.

For more information, go to www.weld.gov/go/zoonosis.

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