Aug 25, 2014 1:00 AM

Author: Libby Mitchell

West Nile is back in Utah.

This morning the Salt Lake County Health Department said one person has been diagnosed with West Nile fever, which is a less severe form of disease caused by West Nile Virus. Utah is now the 17th state with a human infection, in a relatively mild year for the illness – with fewer than 100 total cases seen so far nationwide. And the West Nile season may soon be coming to an end.

“Most West Nile infections happen between June and September,” says Sankar Swaminathan, MD, the chief of University of Utah Health’s Division of Infectious Diseases, “However, you shouldn’t go by the calendar, but by the weather when it comes to risk. As long as it is warm enough for mosquitos to live, there is a risk for West Nile.”

Most people who contract West Nile may not even know they have it. “Between 70 and 80 percent of people with West Nile have no symptoms,” says Swaminathan, “and less than one percent of infected people suffer what we would consider ‘severe’ disease like encephalitis, or meningitis.” Dying from West Nile is even more unlikely. “Less than ten percent of those who develop brain development will die,” Swaminathan says. In 2014 just three deaths have been reported.

While the risk of death from West Nile is low, there is still a risk. Mosquito bites are the primary way people are infected with West Nile. They pick up the virus feeding on the blood of infected birds. Limiting exposure to mosquitos is the best way to avoid the illness.

“Stay out of places with standing water. Most important is to eliminate standing water around your house. If your kid has a water table, drain it after every use, and don’t leave water in inflatable swimming pools” says Andrew Pavia, MD, the chief of U of U Health’s Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. “If you are out in the evening and mosquitos may be about, make sure you, and your kids are wearing bug repellant.” The CDC says that repellants containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide longer-lasting protection. Make sure to follow the directions on the label.

If you suspect you have contracted West Nile, you need to see a doctor immediately. “If you are going to develop symptoms they usually show up two to six days after the mosquito bite,” says Pavia. “If you do test positive for the virus, you will likely be treated with over the counter medications,” says Swaminathan, “there are no specific medications for West Nile. Still, it’s important to get a diagnosis so that treatment appropriate for the illness can be given. Tracking and reporting can then be done to help public health authorities implement control measures to reduce future outbreaks.”

West Nile has been tracked in the United States since 1999. 

Libby Mitchell

Libby Mitchell is the Social Media Coordinator for University of Utah Health. Follow her on Twitter @UUHCLibby.

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