SALT LAKE CITY — Utah health officials said Wednesday a northern Utah resident died recently as a result of the West Nile virus, marking the state's first fatal case of the virus this year.
The update came just a day after state agriculture officials reported that abatement teams have come across a record number of mosquito pools that possess the virus.
In all, 11 people within the Davis, Salt Lake and Weber-Morgan health districts have tested positive for West Nile virus this year, the Utah Department of Health reported Wednesday. The state averages about a dozen cases every year.
The department didn't release much about the person who died as a result of the virus, other than that they were a resident within the Weber-Morgan Health Department district.
Utah Department of Agriculture and Food officials reported Tuesday that the virus has also been found in nine horses and seven birds. Seven of the horses that tested positive for the West Nile virus were in Weber County, while one horse in Box Elder County and another in Salt Lake County also tested positive.
The virus is most often spread by mosquito bites. The Utah Department of Health's report updated through the week ending on Aug. 28 noted that 506 of the more than 5,000 mosquito pools analyzed this year have come back with mosquitoes containing the virus. More than half — 281 in total — of the pools have been located within Davis County while another 192 mosquito pools have been found within Salt Lake County.
The virus has also been indicated in mosquito pools within Box Elder, Cache, Summit, Tooele and Weber counties. Officials with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food added in a West Nile virus update Tuesday that it's the "highest number of positive mosquito pools ever seen in Utah."
Hannah Rettler, Utah Department of Health's vectorborne/zoonotic epidemiologist, added that a little more than 8.6% of mosquito trap sites have tested positive for the virus compared to 0.008% last year.
"Utah is now seeing the highest number of mosquito trap sites test positive for (West Nile virus) than we've had in the history of West Nile surveillance in the state," she said, in a statement Wednesday.
The state reported about an 8% positive rate in 2017, which is when the state had its most human cases of the virus. Most people don't notice any symptoms but it can lead to serious illness and death; per the health department, nine of the 11 human cases reported in Utah this year have been "neuroinvasive."
"We could see many more Utahns become ill unless residents take steps to reduce mosquito exposure," Rettler added.
There are ways for people to prevent getting infected. The health department recommends the following:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks while outdoors.
- Use insect repellent with 20% to 30% DEET. Repellents aren't recommended for children younger than 2 months old.
- Reschedule outdoor activities to avoid the peak time for mosquitos, which are from dusk to dawn.
- Remove puddles of water or standing water that may be in pet dishes, flower pots, buckets, tarps, tires or wading/swimming pools. This is because mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water.
- Report bodies of stagnant water to your local mosquito abatement district.
- Make sure all doors, windows and screens are in good condition and fit tightly so mosquitos can't fly inside a home.
More tips and information about the virus can be found here.
Meanwhile, the disease can cause severe illness in other mammals like horses. Signs of West Nile virus in horses include loss of appetite, depression, fever and neurologic signs like stumbling, circling and weakness, according to state agriculture officials.
Given the record number of mosquito pools found to be carrying the virus, Dr. Dean Taylor, the Utah State veterinarian, urged horse owners to vaccinate their horses against the threat of the West Nile virus.
"Vaccines against West Nile virus and other neurologic diseases are readily available from your veterinarian," he said in a statement. "Every owner should discuss vaccinations with their veterinarian in the spring before mosquito season."