West Nile still threat on High Plains

Complaints about rain are not allowed on the High Plains, but recent wet weather does present a health risk we must take seriously.

Mosquitoes come with the summertime moisture and they can carry the deadly West Nile Virus.

Eastern New Mexico received another harsh reminder about the virus earlier this month when the Department of Health reported an 83-year-old Curry County man died from encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, caused by West Nile.

New Mexico has seen only four human cases of West Nile so far this summer, but two have been reported in Curry County. A 66-year-old woman has also been a victim, though she did not require hospitalization.

The health department will not release the victims’ names and families have not come forward, so we don’t know details about how the infections took place.

What we do know is ordinary mosquito bites are responsible, they occur most frequently in late summer and early fall, those 60 and older are most at risk, and eastern New Mexico is a good place to become a victim.

In 2003, for example, Curry, Roosevelt and Quay counties saw a combined 35 confirmed human cases of West Nile; Bernalillo County (Albuquerque-area) had the same number, despite a population eight times larger than ours.

Since 2003, Curry, Roosevelt and Quay counties have had 62 confirmed cases of West Nile. Thirteen percent of New Mexico’s human West Nile cases have come from the east side the last 11 years, despite our having only 4 percent of New Mexico’s population.

Our 18 inches of rainfall annually is more than many other counties in our state see, which could explain the disproportionate numbers, along with irrigation.

New Mexico Department of Health reports West Nile Virus is a mosquito-borne disease that was first seen in North America in 1999. Human cases have been reported in New Mexico every year since 2003.

The best ways to reduce risks, according to DOH:

• Use insect repellent;

• Reduce the amount of time spent outdoors at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active;

• Have screens on doors and windows to keep mosquitoes out;

• Empty or eliminate water holding containers (where mosquitoes lay their eggs) such as tires, flower pots and buckets.

No one can guarantee immunity from mosquito bites, but we urge area residents to take as many precautions as possible.

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