Aug 202003
Authors: Jesse McLain

Fort Collins residents need look no further than Ace Hardware, 227 South College Ave., to see proof of growing concern surrounding the West Nile epidemic.

“Our shelves of DEET are currently completely empty,” said Ace associate Wayne Buhlig.

According to, “After nearly 50 years of use, DEET is still the most effective insect repellent against mosquitoes and ticks.”

However, not even DEET could stop West Nile from infecting CSU. English junior Audrey Fisher.

“I was using bug spray all the time and just must have gotten bit.” Fisher said.

When Fisher first started noticing symptoms about three weeks ago she didn’t initially suspect she had contracted the virus.

“I felt like I was swollen all over. I had the worst headache I have ever had,” she said. “I knew that I had something.”

Fisher then went to the doctor where she was diagnosed with a mild case of Meningitis and was told she likely didn’t have West Nile because it is usually accompanied by a rash.

“Five days after I was at the doctor I got the rash,” Fisher said.

On Aug. 10, Fisher underwent a spinal tap and blood work done at McKee Medical Center in Loveland. The spinal tap results came back negative, but three days later doctors called to inform Fisher that her blood had tested positive for West Nile virus.

“I was just relieved to know what I had.” Fisher said.

Fisher was forced to put life on hold briefly in order to let her body recuperate from the affects of the virus.

“I had to rest and drink lots of fluids,” she said. “My eyes were really sensitive to transitions in light so I had to take some time off work and school.”

Now life is fairly back to normal for Fisher.

“You’re not going to die,” she said. “Live your life and just be aware it’s a possibility,” she said.

However, some Coloradoans have not escaped as easily as Fisher. Already two Larimer County residents have died from West Nile.

“The older you get the harder (getting over it) gets,” said John Pape, an epidemiologist at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

Among those most at risk to experience serious health complications are the elderly because of weakened immune systems.

Joy Winner, of the Columbine Care Center West, is insuring that elderly residents take proper precautions to protect their safety.

“We recommend that residents are not in and out during dawn and dusk and DEET spray is provided,” Winner said.

Concerns from campus commonly end up at the desk of Dr. Jane Higgins of Hartshorn Health Center. As the Infection Control Physician, Higgins reports seeing approximately 10 to 20 patients daily that have symptoms commonly attributed to West Nile.

“We haven’t done testing on most, but we do have at least one positive test,” she said.

Due to the cost of testing, $70-$100 per test and treatment options, most students Higgins has encountered choose not to be tested for West Nile.

“Testing doesn’t change the treatment and not everyone who has a slight headache or low grade fever needs to come in and see us,” Higgins said. “However if someone is experiencing some of the serious neurological effects, if a woman is pregnant or breast-feeding, or if a person has received a blood treatment in the past two weeks they should definitely be tested.”

Higgins recommended DEET as the best prevention against the virus.

“I’m spraying it on before I run out to the garden and I hate the stuff, but I’d rather that than get this illness because the people I see don’t look happy,” she said.


* Avoid going outdoors during dawn and dusk

* Wear long sleeve shirts and pants when outdoors

* Apply insect repellent that contains at least 30 percent DEET

* Avoid standing water

* Keep windows closed and door screens and from disrepair

For more information, visit

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