West Nile Virus Is Becoming More Common In Utah
Health department officials are seeing increasing amounts of a virus that appears seasonally in mosquitoes. They say it’s something to watch out for but not to panic about.
West Nile virus has been found in seven counties in Utah, including Summit County, but no people have contracted the virus this year.
Utah averages 12 cases in humans a year. According to the Utah Health Department, it’s similar to COVID-19 in that not all patients show symptoms. Those who have underlying health conditions or are over 50 are more likely to become ill. Humans can only get it from mosquitoes.
80% of patients show no symptoms, but patients who do experience flu-like symptoms. The most serious cases can lead to hospitalization, disability or death, but health department epidemiologist Hannah Rettler says people shouldn’t worry too much.
“We don’t want people to stay inside and be terrified of going outside and terrified of mosquito bites,” she said. “There’s lots of things you can do to protect yourself and your body, like wearing long pants and long sleeves. We understand that’s miserable when it’s really hot, so we do recommend EPA-approved mosquito repellent.”
Other steps to take to avoid the virus are to stay away from standing water where there could be mosquito eggs and being extra careful around dusk and dawn.
At this time of year, it’s normal for samples of mosquitos to show the presence of West Nile before any humans test positive for it. Compared to past years, the numbers are on pace to result in more human cases than usual this season.
In 2019, there were 21 human cases. Last year, there were only two. The health department doesn’t know exactly why 2020 was so low but says it was consistent in all states.
Most of what health departments are seeing is in Salt Lake and Davis counties, but West Nile has been found in Summit County.
“It’s not yet found in Wasatch [County]. From what I have reported from Summit [County], they’ve tested 35 pools, and there’s been one positive,” Rettler said. “That was trapped July 16. I would say, even if we’re not seeing high numbers, to still take those same precautions. Right now, it is highly concentrated in the Salt Lake and Davis County area. So, again, I don’t want people to be afraid to travel to Salt Lake or afraid to travel to Davis. Just know that if they do travel to those areas, taking that protection measure is going to be really helpful and important.”
Other counties where West Nile has been found this year are Box Elder, Cache, Tooele and Weber.
For more information on West Nile Virus, visit the Utah Department of Health website.