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Zika, West Nile: What you need to know

Photo Credit: Sacha Smith | The Southern Ute Drum



Every summer, mosquitos make their return wreaking havoc on those enjoying the summer weather. However this year there are more fears circulating mosquito bites since the outbreak of the Zika virus.

First things first, Zika is not a new virus. It was discovered in Uganda in 1947 and for the most part has stayed localized until this last May when the outbreak in Brazil occurred.

In the U.S. Zika started showing up in travel related cases – cases that involve a person who had recently traveled to an infected area and returned to the U.S. But now we are seeing non-travel-related cases popping up in Florida. According to the Florida Health Department as of Wednesday, Aug. 17 there are 33 non-travel-related cases of the Zika virus known in their state.

Somewhat good news for Coloradoans is that according to the San Juan Basin Health Department the species of mosquito that transmits Zika does not exist in Colorado.

However, Tribal Health Department Interim Director Kaylor Shemberger said though the Centers of Disease Control did not identify Southwest Colorado, as a potential key area for Zika to occur doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen; it just means there is less risk of it happening, he said.

“The most reasonable thing to do is to honor the CDC guidelines,” Shemberger said. “Anyone traveling to and from a high risk area should be concerned.”

According to the CDC website an alert has been issued for travel to areas where Zika is spreading. Travelers who are pregnant or considering pregnancy should consult a doctor before traveling.

Since there is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, people living or traveling to areas with Zika should take steps to prevent infection.


According to the CDC, Zika is primarily spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on a person already infected with the virus. Infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to other people through bites. The virus can also be passed through sex from a person who has Zika to his or her partners. A pregnant woman infected with Zika can pass it on to her fetus during pregnancy. The infection and can lead to microcephaly and other serve brain defects in infants. In adults the virus is linked to a form of temporary paralysis called Guillain-Barré syndrome. It can also be passed through blood transfusions and laboratory exposure.


According to the CDC symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes, and are usually mild and resolve completely. However, not everyone gets sick, so some become infected with the virus without knowing it. It is advised you see your doctor if you develop symptoms after traveling to an area with Zika.


Avoid mosquito bites. Cover exposed skin by wearing long sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors, wearing EPA registered mosquito with one of the following active ingredients Deet, Picardin, Bayrepel, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, or IR3535. Another preventative measure is to not travel to high-risk areas. The CDC also recommends getting rid of standing water around your property. Since the virus can be transmitted through sex, the use of condoms or other barriers are recommended during sex for up to 8 weeks after returning from an infected area, when displaying no symptoms. For men, with a Zika diagnosis or symptoms, the use of sexual barriers is recommended for 6 months following diagnosis or start of symptoms. For women, the use of sexual barriers it’s recommended for 8 weeks following a Zika diagnosis or start of symptoms.


Though much of everyone’s focus has been on Zika, the San Juan Basin Health (SJBH) wants remind the public of the risk of West Nile Virus, a common mosquito-borne illness in the Southwest.

Earlier this month the SJBH stated it had been notified of 18 positive mosquito specimens carrying the West Nile Virus in Durango City limits. Over the last five years SJBH has followed up on 10 human cases of West Nile Virus in La Plata and Archuleta County.

West Nile is most commonly transmitted via mosquito bites and does not spread from person to person or animal to person. There is no vaccine or specific treatments for West Nile Virus. Symptoms include headache, body aches joint paints, vomiting diarrhea or rash. Most with West Nile Virus will recover completely with less than one percent of those infected developing a more serious neurological infection.

However, residents should take preventative measures to keep themselves safe. Including using mosquito repellant that has been proven affective against West Nile Virus-carrying mosquitoes, such as those containing DEET, Picardin or IR3535; getting rid of standing water on your property; and keeping skin covered when out between dusk and dawn.


For more information on the Zika or West Nile Viruses visit


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