First Human West Nile Virus Case in Utah Confirmed

First Human West Nile Virus Case in Utah Confirmed

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(KSL News/AP)-- State health officials on Friday confirmed the first human case in Utah of the West Nile virus.

The Uintah County patient is recovering from flu-like virus symptoms after being bitten by infected mosquitos, state epidemiologist Robert Rolfs said. Rolfs indicated the Uintah County patient had no severe reaction. He said it would have taken 2-14 days after the bite of a mosquito for the symptoms to develop.

Test results by the state public health laboratory confirmed the virus Friday afternoon, and officials hastily arranged a news conference in Salt Lake City. Rolfs said he did not know the patient's age or sex and Joseph Shaffer, chief health officer for Uintah, Daggett and Duchesne counties, couldn't be reached at his office late Friday.

The mosquito-borne virus has spread across much of the country but didn't show up in Utah until last month, when it was found in two chickens near Price, one horse in Uintah County and another horse in Emery County. Since then, the virus has been found in eight Utah counties in mosquitos, chickens, horses, and a dead bird.

Those counties are Carbon, Duchesne, Emery, Grand, Sanpete, Uintah, Utah, and Wayne.

The virus is passed by bites from mosquitoes that have fed on infected birds.

Dr. Rolfs says while some high risk people may get sicker, most will have few if any symptoms, or a moderate illness mimicing the flu.

"About one in five will become ill with an illness that's a lot like influenza," he says. "They will have a fever, feel lousy. Their appetite will be bad. They may have a headache, muscle aches, pain behind their eyes that will last three to six days."

That's not to say West Nile is not risky, especially for older people or those with compromised immune systems.

It's estimated one in 150 will develop severe complications.

"The state that was most affected this year was Colorado. They have between 1,500 and 1,700 cases already this year, and I think about 36 deaths. So, it can be serious," Dr. Rolfs cautions.

For Colorado, the second and third years have been the worst. That might hold true in Utah as well as we begin our second season next year.

"It's not something people should panic about, but there's some simple things they can do to protect themselves. We've known for months that West Nile would enter the state," Rolfs said.

Cold weather in northern Utah is killing off mosquitos, but the threat still exists across the state, he said. Health officials recommend people use a DEET-based repellent outdoors and wear pants and long-sleeved shirts to reduce the risk of mosquito bites. Homeowners also should get rid of sources of standing water, even in gutters, and change the water in birdbaths every three days.

The virus takes a greater toll on wildlife.

"Crows and magpies, hawks and eagles tend to be pretty heavily infected. It's also very serious for horses, but there's a vaccine for horses," Rolfs said.

"This is further evidence that West Nile is here and can infect people, and people ought to be taking steps to protect themselves for the next few weeks" that mosquitos linger, he said.

Some good news-- in states which had some of the early cases of West Nile, it appears humans and birds may be developing antibodies against the virus.

( The Associated Press contributed to this story)

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