FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The death of a 71-year-old in Denver on Thursday brings up renewed concerns about the West Nile virus and its continued prevalence in mosquitoes in Colorado.
Health officials have confirmed the 71-year-old died of the virus, the 11th death from West Nile this month in Colorado.
Health experts and virus researchers alike are sounding the alarm about a disease that is still very much a worry.
“It was pretty scary a couple weeks ago,” said Brian Foy, professor of microbiology, immunology and pathology at Colorado State University.
There is concern among biologists and researchers like Foy about what is called the vector index for West Nile.
“It was higher than we had seen, almost ever,” Foy said of index readings this month.
And Foy said it’s not necessarily due to the wet weather this year.
“It’s weird because this year, we had an extremely wet year, and we think high levels early are because of that,” he said. “But last year was a pretty dry year and we had very, very high levels from historical levels.”
The first confirmed West Nile death in Denver is also concerning to doctors and other medical professionals.
“It’s still around. I don’t think it ever truly goes away,” said Aaron Carlson, nurse practitioner for HealthFit Family Medicine at AdventHealth Castle Rock.
Carlson said to keep in mind that the symptoms are fairly common.
“It kind of presents like a lot of other viral illnesses: fatigue, body aches, you don’t have a lot of energy, maybe a fever, but not always," Carlson said.
Carlson recommended not waiting too long to get care, especially if you’re 60 years old or above, or if you have a medical condition or weakened immune system.
“I would recommend you get in sooner rather than later so we can help support,” he said. “If we catch it early, before things get bad, usually we can manage the symptoms.”
Back in the lab, Foy said controlling West Nile is all about trial and error, like a new bird seed trial because birds remain the primary reservoir for West Nile.
“We are trying to treat bird seed with drugs, where birds might self-medicate and prevent West Nile transmission around the bird feeder,” Foy explained. “And then maybe we could also put a vaccine on that too.”
In Colorado, most West Nile cases are diagnosed in August and September.
West Nile deaths this month have been reported in Denver, Jefferson, Larimer, Boulder, Weld, Pueblo and La Plata counties.
Experts say to remember the four D's: Avoid being out at dusk and dawn, dress in long sleeves and pants, drain standing water around your home and wear insect repellent with DEET.