A Moab resident tested positive for West Nile virus on Aug. 20, the Southeast Utah Health Department reported.
This is the first human case of the mosquito-borne disease in Grand County this year. Two other cases have been reported in other parts of Utah, according to the Utah Department of Health.
The department reports that, while infected with the virus, the resident does not have the dangerous neuro-invasive form of the disease.
“This form of the disease is just a different presentation,” said Brady Bradford, Southeast Utah Health Department director and health officer. “Most people infected with West Nile just feel flu-like symptoms. People with already compromised immune systems are often the ones at risk of developing a neuro-invasive form.”
Seven mosquito pools in the area have tested positive for the virus this year, the Southeast Utah Health Department said in a press release.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), West Nile virus is the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the continental United States.
While most of those infected with the virus have no symptoms, the CDC reports about 1 out of 150 infected people develop a serious illness that causes fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, or rash. The resulting weakness and fatigue can last for months.
Humans with the virus are not contagious and cannot spread the disease directly to others.
West Nile virus infected 11 people in Utah last year, with one fatality, according to the Utah Department of Health.
Even though this first human case is not considered medically threatening, “do not be lulled into thinking this is not a big deal, Moab Mosquito Abatement District manager Libby Nance said. “It is.”
In an emailed update, Nance pointed out that the city sits right up against the edge of the mosquitoes’ preferred habitat: the wetlands on the western side of Moab.
The pools of water within the wetlands are prime habitat for disease-carrying species of mosquitoes. The Moab Mosquito Abatement District has worked on reducing the mosquito population through chemical fogging in areas around the wetlands this year.
The Mosquito Abatement District previously assured residents that the fogging chemicals are “completely safe and labeled for neighborhoods … there is no danger from the minute amounts of active ingredient we are applying.”
Grand County also approved spending over $8,000 to replace decades-old fogging equipment.
In addition to the fogging, which the abatement district reported reduced the mosquito population, aerial drops of larvicide occurred the morning of Sunday, July 14. The larvicide kills immature mosquitoes in their larval stage and is applied to the water — a more effective method of control than aerial spraying.
Even with all these precautions, Nance is pragmatic.
“There is simply no way to kill every mosquito that has the virus, period,” she said.
The Moab Mosquito Abatement District regularly traps and tests mosquitoes from around the area for disease. None of the six samples collected Aug. 13 tested positive for West Nile virus.
However, Nance urged residents continue to protect themselves from mosquito bites until the fall.
While the incidents of West Nile virus peak in the summer with mosquito season, the infectious insects “still fly and seek blood meals until that first killing frost,” she warned.
The Southeast Utah Health Department recommends residents protect themselves by wearing long sleeved shirts and long pants and applying Environmental Protection Agency-approved mosquito repellent.
“As communities, we generally forget to put on our insect repellant,” said Bradford, “but we shouldn’t take it for granted.”
People can also avoid being outdoors from 8 p.m. to midnight and during dawn hours, when vector mosquitoes (those potentially carrying disease) are most active. Eliminating standing water sources that may contain larvae also helps keep the number of infectious insects down. Stagnant water is often found in unused swimming pools or hot tubs or around irrigation fields and livestock troughs.
Crows, ravens, magpies, jays, hawks, eagles and owls are all bird species that are susceptible to West Nile virus. While the birds themselves are not West Nile-infectious, the abatement district has requested that citizens report any dead or oddly-behaving birds. The reporting and testing of dead birds is another way to check for the presence of the virus in the area. The Moab Mosquito Abatement District can be reached at 435-259-7161 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Southeast Utah Department of Health advises that if you feel signs or symptoms of serious infection, such as severe headaches, a stiff neck, disorientation or confusion, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
“As communities, we generally forget to put on our insect repellant, but we shouldn’t take it for granted.”