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Fort Collins unveils West Nile Virus Risk Map

The West Nile virus has been a continuing problem in Fort Collins since 2003, with four fatalities in 2014 and two mild cases confirmed so far in 2016.

A member of the mosquito species Culex quinquefasciatus sucks blood from a finger. There are two species out of 40 in Colorado that can transfer the West Nile virus. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
A member of the mosquito species Culex quinquefasciatus sucks blood from a finger. There are two species out of 40 in Colorado that can transfer the West Nile virus. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

In an effort to reduce the virus’ risk, the City of Fort Collins unveiled the West Nile Virus map last week, which shows areas of the city that are more at risk to the disease than others. 

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The West Nile virus can only be contracted through mosquito bites, specifically female culex mosquitoes; there are only two species out of the 40 that exist in Colorado that can transmit the disease. Fort Collins manages 53 mosquito traps across the city to monitor the virus, and updates the map regularly to reflect new data.

The West Nile virus has two forms, according to Katie O’Donnel, public information officer for the Larimer County Health and the Environment Department. One form causes what is referred to as West Nile fever, a weak form of the virus that exhibits symptoms similar to an extreme flu, and the other is a much more severe life-threatening affliction that can cause death.

The Center for Disease Control estimates that around 70 to 80 percent of people do not see any symptoms from contracting the disease. Less than one percent of people who contract the West Nile virus see any life-threatening effects – but there is no cure.

“Over 80% of those infected with West Nile virus will see no symptoms,” said Matthew Parker,  however nearly 20% will experience severe flu-like symptoms and nearly 1 in 100 will experience life-threatening symptoms. Fatalities do occur, with Colorado seeing 5 fatalities in 2014.”

According to Katie O’Donnel, Larimer County is consistently rated in the top 10 counties in the country for the risk of West Nile virus, but nobody really knows why.

Annie Bierbower, civic engagement liaison for the City of Fort Collins, said that while the map can help people avoid areas particularly prone to the virus, the public should also follow the “four d’s” to make sure they are protected if they travel through any at-risk areas.

1. Drain
Drain out any standing water you may have in your yard or in any pools. Mosquitoes use these areas as prime breeding grounds.

2. Dress
Wear long, loose-fitting clothing to make it harder for mosquitoes to make skin contact.

3. DEET
Use insect repellent to disguise yourself against mosquitoes’ senses (other products are available).

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4. Dawn/Dusk
Spend as little time possible outside during the early morning and early evening- this is when mosquitoes are most active. 

Collegian Executive Editor Erik Petrovich can be reached at editor@collegian.com or on Twitter @EAPetrovich.  

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