Prevention is key in fight against West Nile virus

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SALT LAKE CITY - State officials say that West Nile virus could come to Utah earlier than usual this year.

Sammie Dickson, manager for the Salt Lake City mosquito abatement district, says that with the extreme heat and low precipitation Utah has had this year, the marshes are drying up faster and West Nile virus will make its way to cities earlier.

"There are two species of mosquito that can transmit West Nile virus in Utah. One lives in the marsh, the other lives in people's backyards," Dickson said.

Those backyard pests are the most common way people in Salt Lake City get West Nile virus; from mosquitoes that develop in water that has been stagnant for at least seven days.

"In tires, buckets, wading pools that aren't used, standing water in low areas, in gutters," Dickson said.

Dr. Dagmar Vitek, medical director for the Salt Lake County Health Dept. says 80 percent of the people who get West Nile virus don't even know they have it. About 20 percent will develop flu-like symptoms; fever, muscle aches and headaches.

About one percent of those who get the virus will develop a very severe illness, Vitek said.

"Like meningitis or encephalitis. You have high fever, and you have seizures, you can go into a coma, and about 10 percent of those people can die," he said.

Those that survive a severe case can have symptoms for months or years.

There isn't treatment or a cure, so prevention is the best method to stay healthy. Mosquito repellent with at least 25 percent DEET will protect wearers for up to five hours.

"Sometimes, when you go in your backyard and you barbecue, you do not want to worry about putting DEET on, because people think, 'It's not going to happen to me,'" Vitek said.

In Utah, mosquitoes that transmit West Nile virus only bite at night, between dusk and dawn.

"If you're going to be out there, it's hot, you're not going to be wearing long sleeves or long pants, so put on some mosquito repellent and protect yourself," Vitek said.

There are no confirmed cases of the virus in Utah yet this year, but some mosquitoes in southern Utah have already tested positive.