Richard Bowen spends his days working with chickens, cows,
horses and various other animals.
He is not running a ranch, though; he is helping to protect
people and animals from the West Nile virus.
Bowen, a biomedical sciences professor at CSU, is working with
other researchers to find a vaccine for West Nile by examining how
the disease infects and affects animals.
“Starting back in 2000, we began testing horses, cows, bats,
birds, you name it. We do vaccine testing, trying to understand the
disease in animals,” Bowen said. He said a lot of his work is in
collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and
While much of the country has experienced the effects of West
Nile, Colorado was hit the hardest. Statistics on the CDC Web site
show that for the year 2003, Colorado had 2,170 human cases of West
Nile compared to the next highest state, Nebraska, at 1,540.
Larimer County accounted for 525 of the human West Nile cases in
Bowen discussed what it was like to be in the middle of all the
“We certainly got a lot of calls,” Bowen said. “I suppose you
could say we were an epicenter for the disease. We knew of it
before it hit Colorado, so that might have helped us prepare for
Anne Watson is a health education supervisor for the Larimer
County Department of Health. She explained why there was such an
explosion of Colorado West Nile cases.
“Weather conditions were perfect for mosquitoes this year,”
Watson said. “We had a warm, mild winter and a wet spring.
Mosquitoes woke up earlier and began biting people and animals
earlier.” She said Colorado had a 30-year high in its mosquito
population in 2003.
A news release from the Colorado Department of Public Health and
Environment declared the West Nile season over for Colorado. Colder
temperatures and less daylight mean the mosquitoes will not be
active again until late May or early June 2004.
In looking ahead to next summer, Bowen said he does not foresee
an increase of West Nile cases in Colorado.
“I think the typical pattern is there’s a small incursion in the
first year. In the second year, the experience has been that it’s
not as bad. One reason is that there is a buildup of immunity in
the population. It also depends on the number of mosquitoes. This
year we had an inordinately large population of mosquitoes compared
to the last 10 years,” Bowen said.
Watson said she knows people are aware of the dangers posed by
West Nile, but not many of them actually seem to care.
“I think they certainly are aware that we had a lot of people
infected,” Watson said. “Of the people who were infected, we did a
case study and found very few of them were using repellant. It’s
kind of like people don’t think it will affect them. Some people
do, but something like 12 percent of infections had been using
While health officials nervously anticipate the next West Nile
season, Bowen will remain busy with his attempts to protect humans
and animals from the disease.
“There is a lot of need for vaccines that will protect humans
and animals from West Nile,” Bowen said.