Preventing West Nile virus, controlling mosquitos

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Heavy snow and rain this winter and spring left standing water in many areas of northern Utah, providing prime breeding ground for mosquitoes. Utah mosquito abatement crews have reported seeing twice the number of mosquitoes than they normally see this time of year, which means higher risk for vector borne illnesses such as West Nile virus.

What is West Nile virus?

West Nile virus is commonly transmitted to humans through the bite of a mosquito. The virus is carried by birds; infected birds that develop high enough levels of the virus in their bloodstream can pass the virus to mosquitoes. These infected mosquitoes may go on to bite and infect other mammals such as horses or humans, completing the cycle. Mosquitoes that carry the virus are most active between dusk and dawn. West Nile virus is prevalent in Utah and was first identified here in August 2003. Since that time, mosquitoes carrying this virus have been reported throughout the state every year, but with just a handful of human cases reported.

What are the signs and symptoms?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 70 to 80 percent of people who become infected with West Nile virus do not develop any signs or symptoms. About one in five who are infected develop symptoms such as headache, body ache, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. In rare cases, a more severe neurological illness develops with symptoms such as high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, seizure, or paralysis. If you suspect that you have symptoms of West Nile virus, contact your health care provider right away.

How can you protect yourself from the virus?

There are currently no medications or vaccines to treat or prevent the virus. The CDC and Davis County Mosquito Abatement District recommend the following personal protective measures:

1. Use insect repellent that contains DEET on exposed skin

2. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants from dusk to dawn

3. Remove standing water around yards and homes

4. Make sure windows, doors, and screens fit tightly and do not contain holes

5. Treat clothing with permethrin or purchase pretreated clothing

What is your local community doing to protect you from mosquitoes?

Utah’s local county health departments have robust mosquito surveillance and abatement programs targeting the control of mosquitoes. At Hill Air Force Base, the 75th Medical Group Public Health Flight coordinates with the base Pest Management office to monitor, trap, and test mosquitoes for West Nile virus and other illnesses. Pest Management uses abatement techniques such as mosquito larvicide to inhibit breeding and growth in base water sources. Public Health conducts weekly surveillance by setting up mosquito traps throughout the base to monitor mosquito counts in an effort to assist Pest Management in determining the need for additional abatement methods, such as fogging for adult mosquito control. Additionally, Public Health’s trapping efforts help identify what potential illnesses can be spread by mosquitoes in the local area.

For more information on West Nile virus or mosquito abatement, please contact Public Health at 801-586-0987 or view these helpful links:

Center for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/westnile/index.html

Utah Department of Health: http://health.utah.gov/epi/diseases/WNV