Southwest Health Notes: Protect yourself from the West Nile virus

Summer is upon us and the mosquitos are out in force. Not only are bites itchy and painful, they can also put you at risk for contracting the West Nile virus. Mosquitoes usually become infected with West Nile when they feed on infected birds. The mosquitoes can then spread the virus to both humans and animals when they bite. The virus cannot be spread from animals to humans or among humans through casual contact. West Nile can be spread via blood transfusions, so the U.S. blood supply is routinely screened for the virus.

West Nile virus has been detected in all 48 states of the continental U.S, and the map on the Centers for Disease Control website shows that Southwest Colorado is an area where the virus is present. The risk of infection is highest for people who work outside or participate in outdoor activities because of greater exposure to mosquitoes. Those with compromised health may be at greater risk of contracting the virus and/or developing more severe symptoms.

Interestingly, most people who become infected with West Nile virus do not develop any symptoms. About one in five individuals who are infected will develop a fever with other symptoms such as headache, fatigue, body aches, joint pains, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. Most people who are infected at this level recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can persist for weeks or months.

Less than 1 percent of people who are infected with West Nile virus develop a serious neurologic illness such as encephalitis or meningitis (inflammation of the brain or surrounding tissues). The symptoms of neurologic illness can include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures, or paralysis. If this occurs, hospitalization may be required to receive supportive treatment, such as intravenous fluids, pain medication and nursing care. Recovery may take weeks or months, and some neurologic effects may be permanent. There were five deaths in Colorado related to the virus in 2012.

Steps you can take

The most effective way to avoid West Nile virus is to prevent mosquito bites by doing the following:

Use insect repellents when you go outdoors.

Wear long sleeves and pants when mosquitoes are most active.

Install or repair screens on windows and doors.

Try to reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home by getting rid of standing water from containers such as flowerpots, rain gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet dishes, discarded tires and birdbaths.

There are no medications to treat or vaccines to prevent West Nile virus infection. Over-the-counter pain relievers can be used to reduce fever and relieve mild symptoms. If you develop the symptoms described and they last more than a few days or if the symptoms are severe call you primary health-care provider for advice or an appointment.

Data Sources: Centers for Disease Control and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

CPR and life-support classes are open to the public

Megan Higman, RN, BNS, is the Education Director at Southwest Memorial Hospital. She spends much of her time ensuring that hospital and clinic employees are up to date with the most current knowledge and certifications to care for patients. “This includes classes in CRP, advanced cardiac life support, and pediatric life support,” said Higman. “We open our educational offerings up to the public. Everyone can benefit from knowing CRP, and healthcare professionals – even if they don’t work at Southwest Memorial – are welcome to get their certifications here locally,” she added. Here’s what on the schedule for the summer months.


$25 (Kiva room at Southwest Memorial Hospital

June, 19, 6-10 p.m.

June 23, 7-11 a.m.

July 17, 8 a.m. - 12 noon

July 29, 6-10 p.m.

First aid

$25 (Kiva room at Southwest Memorial Hospital)

August 21, 6-10 p.m.

Advanced cardiac life support

$150 (SWHM Annex building on Market Street)

July 10-11, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. both days

Pediatric advanced life support

$150 (SWHM Annex building on Market Street)

August 7 -8, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. both days

More information

To find out more or to register for any of these classes, contact Meghan Higman at 564-2160 or e-mail her at

Southwest Health Notes Health News Round Up is a public service feature provided by Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez. The information provided herein is not intended as patient-specific medical advice or as a substitute for consultation with your personal health-care provider.