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Colorado Reports 1st West Nile Virus Death

August 06, 2003|From Associated Press

GREELEY, Colo. — The West Nile virus, which has marched steadily toward the Pacific since it first appeared in the United States in 1999, has claimed its first life in Colorado, officials said Tuesday.

The victim was not identified by Weld County health officials because of the state's strict medical confidentiality rules, though they said she had chronic medical problems. The Fort Collins Coloradoan newspaper, citing anonymous health officials, identified her as 77-year-old Maria Flores and said she died Friday at a Greeley hospital.

The death is at least the nation's fourth from the virus this year, with two victims in Texas and another in Alabama.

So far, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming are the westernmost states to report human cases of the disease; of those, only Colorado has had a fatality confirmed.

"We are very sorry for the family's loss of their loved one," said Dr. Mark Wallace, director of the Weld County health department. "We had hoped to get through the season without any deaths. We are doing everything we can to protect our citizens."

The county and Greeley have spent more than $700,000 on mosquito control. County Commissioner M.J. Geile said more money will be spent on control if necessary.

Experts are trying to find out why Colorado is leading the nation in the number of human cases, with 72 confirmed as of Tuesday. The virus first appeared here in August, but none of the 13 human cases last year was fatal.

This year's cool, wet spring and hot summer are partly to blame.

"They were perfect breeding conditions for mosquitoes," Wallace said.

John Pape, an epidemiologist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, also said the virus appears to be much stronger during its second year.

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