DENVER – A 71-year-old Denver resident has died after contracting West Nile virus, the first death in Denver and the 11th across the state so far this year.
Denver Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE) officials on Thursday confirmed the death, which they said occurred after the resident was hospitalized due to complications from the disease. Earlier this week, health officials in Larimer and Boulder counties confirmed deaths in their jurisdictions. Deaths have also been reported in Jefferson, La Plata, Pueblo, and Weld counties.
All 11 deaths have occurred this month, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).
"We are thinking of the family during this difficult time," said Bob McDonald, the exective director of the DDPHE and Denver’s Public Health administrator. "This mosquito season has been particularly bad in Colorado, and I urge everyone to take WNV seriously and take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones from mosquito bites."
Denver health officials said they have investigated 23 cases of West Nile virus since the beginning of the mosquito season this year. Statewide, there have been 103 cases of West Nile so far, with a little more than half of those requiring hospitalization.
West Nile virus is endemic in Colorado, meaning anyone can get infected with the virus if they encounter mosquitoes in areas where they live and breed. The virus does not spread from person to person.
While everyone is at risk of being infected with West Nile virus, those over 50 years old, or with weakened immune systems, are at greater risk of developing serious illness, DDPHE officials said.
How to protect yourself and your family from West Nile virus
Mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn, so the first line of defense against potential exposure is to avoid activities during this time, according to health experts.
As mosquito season continues, health officials recommend taking the following steps to protect yourself and your family from West Nile virus:
- Stop mosquitoes from laying eggs in or near water on your property by:
- Eliminating sources of standing water near your home by emptying, scrubbing, turning over, covering or throwing out items that hold water such as tires, buckets, planters, toys, wheelbarrows, pools, birdbaths, flowerpots, or trash containers once a week. All of these can become a breeding ground for the mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus
- Check for water-holding containers both indoors and outdoors
- Avoid watering cement or on the street, as these can result in pools that support larval mosquitoes
- If making landscape decisions, consider ways to minimize overspray (of irrigation) to streets and gutters
- Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and socks in areas where mosquitoes are active
- Use an insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol. The EPA has a database where you can search for and find a repellent that is right for you.
In addition to eliminating sources of standing water around your home weekly, you can also mosquito-proof your home by installing or repairing screens on windows and doors.
How to spot a West Nile virus infection
Symptoms of West Nile virus infection appear two to 14 days after exposure, with 1 in 5 people developing fever, body aches, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, joint pain, weakness and occasionally skin rashes and swollen nymph nodes.
While most people infected with West Nile virus don’t have symptoms, around 1% of those infected can develop a serious, sometimes fatal, neuroinvasive disease that can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and/or meningitis (inflammation of the brain's lining), loss of vision, paralysis, coma, tremors, convulsions, and even death, according to the DDPHE.
People older than 60 years old or those with certain medical conditions such as being immunocompromised, diabetic, fighting cancer or those with kidney disease are most at risk of developing neuroinvasive disease, according to Dr. Daniel Pastula, an infectious disease specialist at UCHealth and chief of neuro-infectious diseases and global neurology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Colorado School of Public Health.
People should talk to their doctors or their health care provider if they experience any of these symptoms, especially if you develop a fever with severe headaches or confusion following a mosquito bite.
While there is no treatment, cure, or vaccine to protect against West Nile virus, medical professionals can treat symptoms to help patients feel better and possibly recover more quickly, Denver health officials said.
In Colorado, most West Nile virus cases are diagnosed in August and September, but cases can be identified as early as May and as late as December. Generally, the mosquito season extends from late-April until mid-October, with the end usually signaled by the first freeze in the fall.
Last year, Colorado reported 206 human cases of West Nile virus, including 20 deaths.