There have been no reported cases of the West Nile virus in Utah this year, but that doesn’t mean the mosquitoes haven’t been trying.
According to the Utah Department of Health, mosquitoes collected from 114 traps around the state have tested positive for the virus — meaning Utahns are one bite away from contracting the potentially deadly disease.
“West Nile virus is a yearly presence in Utah and it isn’t going away,” said UDOH epidemiologist Hannah Rettler. “Even though the number of human cases has decreased in recent years, it is important to understand that West Nile virus has established itself in mosquito populations in the state.”
Rettler said Utah has averaged 12 human cases of West Nile virus per year since 2009 — there were 21 cases in 2019, and two in 2020. “Some of those cases can be quite severe or even result in death,” she said.
Six Utahns died of West Nile virus in 2017, including Hillcrest High School football coach Cazzie Brown, who contracted meningitis after testing positive for West Nile. Another Utahn died in 2018, and another died in 2019.
It’s possible that Utahns have become infected this year and don’t know it; most people with West Nile virus do not develop any symptoms. Those who do develop symptoms may experience headaches, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash.
According to UDOH, fewer than than 1% of people infected will develop a serious neurologic illness, such as meningitis.
The department recommends:
• Wear long sleeves, long pants and socks while outdoors, and use an insect repellent with 20%-30% DEET.
• Avoid outdoor activities from dusk to dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.
• Make sure doors, windows and screens are in good condition and fit tightly.
• Remove standing water near your home. That includes water in puddles, pet dishes, flower pots, wading and swimming pools, buckets, tarps and tires.
• Report bodies of stagnant water to your local Mosquito Abatement District.