West Nile virus

Filed under: Health Quarterly |

El Paso County has benefited from a generous amount of moisture this past spring resulting in rich plant growth; brimming lakes, ponds and streams; and a picturesque landscape fitting of our — Colorful Colorado notoriety.
Unseasonably wet conditions also have created undesirable water sources that could attract some uninvited and possibly harmful creatures during the summer— namely, mosquitoes. Regions and properties with standing or untreated water make ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes that might carry West Nile virus (WNV), a potentially serious disease transmitted to people via mosquito bites after the insects have fed on infected birds.
WNV first appeared in Colorado in 2003, when nearly 3,000 human cases were confirmed, including 63 deaths. Although WNV cases have dropped considerably during subsequent years, 2006 numbers more than tripled from the previous year ­ — totaling 345.
There are a number of ways businesses can inform employees about this important and timely public health concern:
1. Request WNV prevention materials from the Health Department and make them visible/available to employees throughout the work day.
2. Provide a link from your organization’s Web site to the Health Department?s Web site, www.elpasocountyhealth.org.
3. Include e-mail messages and newsletter postings highlighting WNV prevention tips and available educational resources.
4. Stress the “4 D’s” of West Nile prevention, especially during outdoor activities early or late in the day.
5. Eliminate any sources of standing water in or around your worksite, and report any suspect mosquito breeding sites or dead birds to the Health Department by calling 575-8636.
The Health Department has a variety of print and electronic resources addressing West Nile virus prevention, including a full-color brochure entitled “Prevention and Management of West Nile Virus,” along with “Fight the Bite Colorado” brochures, wallet cards and children’s tattoos.
Call 578-3101 for more details or to place an order. Many of these materials also can be accessed at www.elpasocountyhealth.org.
The Health Department?s ongoing prevention and surveillance activities include:

  • Community education — Leading a multi-agency coalition to provide information to the public so residents can protect themselves, their families and others from exposure to mosquitoes.
  • Environmental surveillance and control — Monitoring and testing for the presence of West Nile virus in mosquito populations and coordinating efforts to prevent mosquito reproduction through the dispensing of larvacides.
  • Investigation of human cases — Interviewing and advising individuals diagnosed with West Nile infections, including gathering of case data related to symptoms and severity of illness, along with identifying probable sources of infection.

Rosemary Bakes-Martin is the executive director of the El Paso County Department of Public Health and Environment.