West Nile virus detected in dozens of test areas in Utah

Aug 9, 2021, 3:36 PM
west nile virus...
FILE: Kirsten Wilson, Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District vector control technician, collects a mosquito trap to bring back to the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District lab for mosquito sorting and counting in Salt Lake City on Thursday, July 23, 2020. Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — When the Utah Department of Health begins testing for West Nile virus, they lay traps for the mosquitos that spread the illness.

On Monday, health officials reported they’d found the virus in more than one hundred of the areas they’d tested. But they also stressed that no human cases of West Nile virus have been reported to them this year so far.

Good West Nile virus news, so far — for humans

The lack of reports to the health department about West Nile is positive news, but shouldn’t be taken for granted.

“West Nile virus is a yearly presence in Utah and it isn’t going away,” said Hannah Rettler, Utah Department of Health Vectorborne/Zoonotic Epidemiologist.

RELATED: Less water doesn’t mean fewer mosquitos

Rettler said the virus is well-established in Utah, with the state averaging 12 human cases of West Nile each year. In 2019, there were 21 human cases. But in 2020, there were just two.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Nile is the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the continental United States. It occurs during mosquito season (summer through fall). Most commonly, it spreads to humans from the bite of an infected mosquito.

The chances of developing a serious and sometimes fatal illness after being bitten by a West Nile carrying mosquito is 1 out of 150 infected people. 

It’s easy to avoid this virus

The Utah Department of Health recommends taking the following precautions to avoid mosquito bites and reduce your risk of West Nile virus infection:

  • Wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks while outdoors.
  • Use an insect repellent with 20%-30% DEET (which is safe to use during pregnancy. Repellents are not recommended for children younger than two months of age.)
  • Consider rescheduling outdoor activities that take place during the evening or early morning hours. (The hours from dusk to dawn are peak biting times for many mosquitoes.)
  • Remove puddles of water or standing water near your home. This includes water in pet dishes and flowerpots. It also includes wading and swimming pools, buckets, tarps, and tires. These are the places where mosquitos lay their eggs.
  • Report bodies of stagnant water to your local Mosquito Abatement District (MAD)
  • Keep doors, windows, and screens in good condition and make sure they fit tightly.
  • Consult with an immunization travel clinic before traveling to areas that may have other mosquito-borne illnesses like Zika or dengue and take the necessary precautions.

Not all mosquitos carry West Nile, and according to health officials, 70 to 80% of people infected by the virus won’t notice any symptoms. 

Others may experience flu-like symptoms.

As with many viruses, senior citizens and those with poor immune systems are at a higher risk of developing symptoms.  Those symptoms include high fever and severe headache accompanied by a stiff neck. Symptoms also include disorientation and confusion.


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West Nile virus detected in dozens of test areas in Utah