Increase in mosquito population reignites concern over West Nile


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SALT LAKE CITY -- Rich County is swarming with mosquitoes; residents there say it's the worst infestation they've ever experienced. Now some say: Be warned, the mosquitoes are heading to the Wasatch Front too. It has some worried once again about the threat of West Nile virus.

Though it's difficult to predict many cases of West Nile Utah will see this year, Salt Lake Valley Health Department officials believe there will several cases -- even more than last year's 27 cases. That's why signs and posters have been printed up about how to "Fight the Bite."

We have positive mosquito pools in Salt Lake County. We detected them the second week in June, so we know it's around," said SLVHD medical director Dagmar Vitek.

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That was two weeks ago, before anyone anticipated a surge of mosquitoes headed our way. Both the health department and the Salt Lake County Mosquito Abatement Center conclude the wet month and now-warm temperatures have created perfect conditions for the flying blood suckers.

The best way to protect yourself from the pests is to use repellent with deet. "It's evening and early morning you want to make sure you are well-protected," said Dr. Barbara Insley Crouch, director of the Utah Poison Control Center.

According to SLVHD, about 80 percent of those infected with the virus won't show any symptoms, but 20 percent will, and about 1 percent will have major complications from it.

"We do not have treatment or vaccine, so prevention is really important," Vitek said.

If you buy a repellent with, say 10 percent deet, expect that to protect you for about an hour or two. As the deet dosage goes up, so does the length of protection.

But there are some important things you should know about deet before you use it. Tips from Utah Poison Control include:

  • Use deet only on exposed skin and outer layers of clothing; don't put it on underneath your clothes.
  • When using deet on children, make sure they don't get any on their hands so they don't accidentally ingest it.
  • Don't spray it directly on your face. Spray it on your hands, then rub it gently on your face to avoid irritation.

"Occasionally, it might cause some mild irritation. I think probably the most common thing is somebody gets it on their hands, they rub their eyes, and it can get a little irritated," Crouch said.

She also recommends using a minimal amount of the chemical. If you're only going to be outside for a couple hours, use a repellent with less deet.

E-mail: abutterfield@ksl.com

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