Montrose County has not escaped the mosquito-borne West Nile virus this year — a fact Ken Danskizer knows too well.
About a week ago, he received a phone call from a friend — who, barely able to talk, summoned Danskizer to his home for help. Between the time of his friend’s collapse and the man’s ability to reach his phone, two days had passed.
“He actually crashed in his house and couldn’t get up,” Danskizer said Thursday.
“ … It was a miracle he could call me, otherwise, it would be a whole different story. When I saw him on the floor, I thought he was gone. He was just shaking and laying there. He hadn’t had any water for two days.
“He was a complete wreck. He just couldn’t move and when he did, he would just tremble.”
Danskizer immediately called an ambulance. His friend, 68, was taken to emergency care. It took a few days, but lab results confirmed West Nile virus.
The culex-species of mosquito picks up the virus by biting infected birds. When the mosquito then bites a human or animal, the virus can transmit. It does not pass between humans, except, in a very small number of cases, via blood transfusion, organ donation, or during pregnancy/delivery and breast feeding.
Some people who have West Nile are asymptomatic, or experience mild effects, such as fever.
But the virus can also cause meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes protecting the spinal cord or brain, or encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.
Danzkiser’s friend is one of four confirmed human cases of West Nile virus in Montrose County.
“We had a couple that were meningitis and some were just asymptomatic,” said Lisa Gallegos, Montrose County Health and Human Service’s communicable disease coordinator.
The victims here ranged between ages 23 and 77. The county also has other cases of possible West Nile virus under investigation.
Neighboring Delta County has been hard hit, with 26 confirmed human cases and one fatality.
Statewide, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s data showed 72 confirmed human cases, although the lag between confirmation on a local level and addition to the state’s database is usually about a week.
“West Nile virus can cause some symptoms and diagnoses that cause death. You can become fairly ill with them,” Gallegos said.
The disease can develop in people of any age, but older people, and those with medical conditions such as cancer, or those who have received organ transplants, are at greater risk of a more serious manifestation, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says. So are people with compromised immune systems.
The incubation period is between two days and two weeks. Symptoms can include high fever, headache; progress to stiff neck, disorientation and coma.
The most severe cases can cause permanent brain damage or death, with most deaths occurring among those 50 or older.
“You can avoid mosquitoes by staying in from dawn until dusk. That’s when they’re most active,” Gallegos said.
People should also wear long sleeves and pants when out during those times of day; use repellent containing DEET; keep screens and doors in good repair and drain standing water from buckets, cans, flowerpots, birdbaths, clogged gutters and other sources. Fish that eat mosquito larvae can be stocked in private ponds to help reduce the insect population.
For more information, visit fightthebitecolorado.com.
The Colorado State Veterinarian’s Office has separately confirmed one equine case of West Nile virus in Montrose County. There are now 10 such confirmed cases in the state; four of the afflicted horses had to be put down.
Horses can be vaccinated against West Nile virus. If a horse hasn’t been vaccinated in previous years, it will need a two-shot series over a three to four week period.
Danskizer’s neighborhood is loaded with mosquitoes, he said.
“I’m surprised there aren’t more (human) cases. People need to know that it does happen here in Montrose,” he said.
“I know Delta is dramatically affected. But obviously, it’s upwind. … There are cases here. If you don’t know about it, you don’t think about it.”
Danskizer said his friend is recovering in a local care facility and is now almost able to hold his own cup and is making facial expressions.
“Mosquitoes, forget it. They’ll kill you. It’s awful,” he said.
He wants others to avoid falling ill like his friend.
“It really opened my eyes. It just broke my heart. To see someone like that is just awful,” Danskizer said.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer.