Getting under your skin: Mosquitos may leave behind itch, serious heath problems |

Getting under your skin: Mosquitos may leave behind itch, serious heath problems

Sasha Nelson/Craig Daily Press
A laboratory technician looks into a sealed cardboard container holding a large number of mosquitoes scheduled to undergo testing.
James Gathany/courtesy

Summer often arrives accompanied by biting bugs, including mosquitoes, and these annoying pests may leave behind more than itchy skin.

Mosquitoes are known to transmit diseases, such as yellow fever, zika virus and malaria in other parts of the world. Travelers are often advised to take vaccinations and other precautions before traveling.

In Colorado, mosquitoes have been know to transmit West Nile virus, western equine encephalitis, Saint Louis encephalitis, and heartworm in dogs, according to the Colorado State University Extension website.

Of these diseases, area health providers are most concerned about West Nile virus. Both humans and other animals are susceptible.

“West Nile virus is now in most of the United States,” said Farah Smilanich, registered nurse and public health nurse manager for Northwest Colorado Health.

Many people who contract the virus never develop symptoms.

“A small number of people (about 1 in 150) who get infected develop severe disease called West Nile encephalitis or West Nile meningitis,” Smilanich said.

According to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Rio Blanco County recorded two cases in 2016. The same year, there were 149 human cases of West Nile virus in Colorado, and eight people died. The first human case of West Nile virus this year was reported in June in Larimer County.

“The most common way people get infected is through the bite of an infected mosquito,” Smilanich said.

Weekly mosquito testing for West Nile virus began statewide June 12. Adult mosquitoes are trapped and tested to provide an estimate of the number of infected mosquitoes. The results detect the level of risk to people in the area. The data shows that West Nile virus-carrying mosquitos are slowly moving west and north.

Mosquitos have been trapped in counties to the south — Mesa and Delta — and across the Continental Divide in the Front Range communities of Boulder, Larimer, Jefferson and Weld counties.

People who develop symptoms experience headache, high fever, stiff neck, mental confusion, muscle weakness, tremors, convulsions, coma and paralysis. Others may develop milder symptoms, such as fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, swollen lymph glands, or a rash on the chest, stomach or back that persists for a few days to several weeks.

“See your health care provider if you develop these symptoms,” Smilanich said. “There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus, and there is no vaccine. Adults are at highest risk of infection, but you can reduce your chance of infection by avoiding mosquito bites.”

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or

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