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West Nile virus found in some Salt Lake Valley mosquitoes

Aug 31, 2017 01:45PM ● Published by Jana Klopsch

The South Salt Lake Valley Mosquito Abatement District works throughout the summer to identify mosquito pools infected with the West Nile virus, which has spread throughout the Salt Lake Valley since June. (Lexi Peery/City Journals)

Gallery: South Salt Lake Valley Mosquito Abatement District [3 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Lexi Peery | l.peery@cityjournals.com

Those pesky mosquitoes that torment your summer mornings and evenings may be more of a concern than an itchy bite.

The West Nile virus, a disease that’s been in Utah since 2003, has been found in 74 mosquito pools across the state as of Aug. 5 — with 48 of the pools in the Salt Lake Valley. The West Nile virus is typically detected in June, and continues throughout the summer and fall until the first frost, said Dallin Peterson, an epidemiologist for the state department of health.

“Around August we usually see humans test positive, but to date, we haven’t had any humans, just one horse,” Peterson said.

Eighty percent of people bitten by mosquitoes with the West Nile virus don’t develop any symptoms, and don’t even know they have it. However, around 20 percent of people have fevers and aches after being bitten by a mosquito with West Nile virus. A small number — around 1 percent — develop severe symptoms of the virus, which can lead to neurological problems, coma and even death. Typically, serious symptoms are found among older people, but Brian Hougaard, manager at the South Salt Lake Valley Mosquito Abatement District, said people of all ages have gotten the “nasty effects” of the West Nile virus.

Although the chances of developing serious symptoms from the West Nile virus are slim, it’s still important to protect yourself, Hougaard said.

“We don’t want people to panic, but we do want people to take precautions and educate themselves,” Hougaard said. “Even though it’s that 1 percent (that develop severe symptoms). it’s still nasty and can be devastating.”

Last year, someone did die from the West Nile virus after contracting it later in the summer. Peterson said it’s important to be safe while you’re outside during this summer, especially from dawn until dusk.

Hougaard said that even though there haven’t been any human cases reported yet, this year has been an especially rough year for the Salt Lake Valley.

“Some years you find more mosquitoes with the virus. It was really bad in 2006 and 2007, as well as couple years ago in 2014, and right now it’s going up,” Hougaard said. “This is as bad as I’ve seen it. We’ve found more mosquito pools, but I don’t know how that translates to humans.”

Mosquito abatement groups like Hougaard’s work in communities to locate mosquitoes carrying the virus and treat areas with the virus or those that are at risk of getting the virus, and teach people how to be safe. 

South Salt Lake Valley Mosquito Abatement District has around 30 employees, many of them seasonal, that help identify mosquito pools in the valley. Mosquito pools are samples of 100 or less mosquitoes collected from various locations that are breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The pools are then tested in labs, and if they test positive, Hougaard said his crews go and spray those areas. Oftentimes, abatements take precautions in neighborhoods that haven’t test positive yet, just to assuage the spread of the virus.

“When the West Nile virus hits, we spray in areas we don’t usually, and residents may see us in adulticiding, fogging…if residents see us, don’t be alarmed,” Hougaard said.

One area of concern in the Salt Lake Valley is the marshes around the Jordan River. However, mosquitoes can reproduce anywhere there’s standing water. Hougaard’s abatement group checks gutters, ponds, horse troughs and catch basins in especially susceptible neighborhoods. But oftentimes wheelbarrows, bird feeders, buckets and even soda lids lying around people’s yards have mosquitoes with the West Nile virus there. Hougaard said getting rid of these types of objects that can catch rain or sprinkler water around your yard is one of the best ways to help abatement groups control the mosquito population.

Besides being wary of objects in your yard that have standing water, Peterson said to make sure your windows have screens if they are left open. If you’re out and about — especially in wooded areas or the mountains — it’s important to wear long sleeves, long pants and bug spray to stay safe.

“Be careful that you’re not bitten because you don’t want to have a crummy summer,” Peterson said.    
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