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West Nile Virus Victim Confirmed in Utah

September 21, 2003|Paul Foy | Associated Press Writer

SALT LAKE CITY — 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 mosquitoes, state epidemiologist Robert Rolfs said.

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 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, ahorse in Uintah County and another horse in Emery County. Since then, it has been found in eight Utah counties -- Carbon, Duchesne, Emery, Grand, Sanpete, Uintah, Utah and Wayne -- in mosquitoes, chickens, horses and a dead bird.

The virus is passed by bites from mosquitoes that have fed on infected birds. A small fraction of people infected become seriously ill with encephalitis or meningitis.

Rolfs indicated that the Uintah County patient had no severe reaction. He said it would have taken 2 to 14 days after the bite for symptoms to develop.

"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," he said.

Cold weather in northern Utah is killing mosquitoes, 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 should also get rid of sources of standing water 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 mosquitoes linger, he said.

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