West Nile virus appears in southern Utah

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ST. GEORGE, Utah – The Southwest Public Health Department has confirmation that West Nile virus carrying mosquitoes have appeared in Washington County. It’s the first finding of the virus in Utah this year.

West Nile shows up every year, which is why entomologists closely monitor mosquito populations and frequently test for the disease. The typical high mosquito season in Utah starts in July and runs through October, but last week a mosquito collected in Washington County tested positive for West Nile virus.

"It's fairly soon to be getting any kind of positive," says Southwest Mosquito Abatement District lab supervisor Sean Arnodt.

There have been no human cases reported so far. But the Utah Department of Health says anyone who is bitten has the potential to be infected. Symptoms of West Nile virus are similar to the flu and include fever, headache, vomiting and rash. In most cases, if caught early enough, the disease is treatable. In rare cases, it can cause death.

"West Nile Virus is serious. It's a disease that infects a handful of people in our state every year," says Utah Department of Health spokesman Tom Hudachko. "The good news is that prevention is easy."

The Department of Health offers several tips to protect yourself from mosquito bites:

  • Avoid unnecessary outdoor activities when mosquitoes are active, such as at dawn and dusk.
  • Dress with long sleeves and long pants when going near mosquito infested areas.
  • Use insect repellent that contains DEET (up to 30 percent).
  • Drain standing water on your property where mosquitoes may breed.

For now, the threat appears to be contained to southern Utah, but may spread as the summer progresses. Those living near bodies of water should take extra precaution.

Only certain types of mosquitoes carry West Nile virus. Infection in the United States peaked in 2006.

More information on preventing West Nile virus can be found on the Department of Health's website.