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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A year ago health officials said that if the West Nile virus did not arrive in Utah by fall, it likely would reach the state in 2003.
This spring, they said the mild winter and spring rains made ideal breeding for mosquitoes that spread the disease.
West Nile virus still has not been detected in Utah, but the officials also still are certain it will arrive.
"We know it's going to come, and it will be strange and quite unlikely if it doesn't hit this year," said Jana Kettering, state health department spokeswoman.
The virus, which is spread by mosquitoes, has been detected as far west as Wyoming and Colorado, but has not been found yet in Utah, Idaho or Nevada.
Utah agencies are using many methods to watch for the entry of the virus. Mosquitoes are being trapped, and dead birds and sentinel chicken populations are being tested.
Mosquitoes usually get the disease from biting birds that have the disease, and they then pass it on to humans and other animals.
So far, the health department has tested 10 humans, eight horses, 583 batches of mosquitoes, 1,680 samples from sentinel chickens and 86 birds. The results have all been negative.
West Nile virus can cause a flu-like illness, but it can also cause severe illness and possible death.
Individuals older than 50 are at the greatest risk of serious illness and death, according to the health department.
As people participate in various outdoor activities this summer, they are encouraged to take precautions, including using repellent, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, removing standing water and repairing ripped window screens.
They also are urged to contact their local health departments if they notice a freshly dead bird.
"We just want people to protect themselves because they may not be taking precautions as seriously as they should," Kettering said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)