Ag Officials Brace for New West Nile Virus Season

Ag Officials Brace for New West Nile Virus Season

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah doesn't want to be another Colorado when it comes to the West Nile virus.

Since first appearing in the United States four years ago in New York, the virus has moved steadily West. The disease found in birds and spread by mosquitos to humans and horses hit hardest last year in Colorado, where there were 2,477 human cases.

There was only one human case in Utah last year, but 34 horses were infected. State officials say those cases are certain to increase this summer.

The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food held a meeting to discuss how the state should increase mosquito abatement activities. What came out of it was the creation of a committee, which will meet March 22 to survey where the greatest needs to spray in rural areas are, said Larry Lewis, spokesman for the Utah Department of Agriculture.

"We want people to see that we're starting early and we're doing all we can," said Lewis.

Armed with $500,000 from the state Legislature to aid in the battle, part of Monday's meeting that drew mosquito abatement district representatives and state officials was to assess how the money could best be spent.

"The purpose of that was to help areas that aren't organized or don't have mosquito abatement coverage," said department director Cary Peterson. "We want to be prepared and lessen the impact on our state as best we can."

Sammie Dickson, head of the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District, says he feels good about the control districts provide, but worries that there is only a month or two left to kill the mosquito larvae before they become an airborne problem.

Of the nine counties that detected West Nile virus last year, seven of them had some kind of mosquito control efforts in place, Dickson said.

"We're still going to see West Nile virus. I think mosquito control can lessen the blow but it will not stop it," he said.

People can help protect themselves by removing standing water from around their homes. They also can use an insect repellant that contains DEET if they are outdoors during dawn and dusk hours, when mosquitos are most active.

Horse owners will want to make sure they vaccinate their horses this year, said Michael Marshall, the state veterinarian.

Owners who vaccinated last year need to give their animals a booster, he said.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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