Health Department confirms first case of West Nile virus in Washington County this year

ST. GEORGE — The Southwest Utah Public Health Department has confirmed the first human case of West Nile virus in Washington County this year. 

The adult who contracted it is one of two confirmed cases in Utah. The other case was reported in Salt Lake County. Both cases were confirmed around the end of last week. 

“Human cases are fairly rare. We usually don’t get more than a handful in the state every year,” Dave Heaton, public information officer for the health department, told St. George News. 

The last reported human case of West Nile virus in Southwest Utah was in 2013. There were a total of two cases in the area that year, both in Washington County, Heaton said. 

West Nile virus is transmitted to a person when they are bitten by an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes in Washington County were recently tested positive for the virus, but because the person infected by it had recently traveled to other places where West Nile virus is present, the health department cannot confirm where they contracted it. 

“It’s interesting because, while we have the mosquitoes positive, it’s possible this person may have contracted the virus outside of our district,” Heaton said. “It’s that time of year everywhere, there’s multiple states I think that have it. It’s not necessarily connected.” 

Stock image, St. George News

According to the health department, 60-80% of those infected with West Nile virus won’t have any symptoms. 

“The positive thing is that most people who are infected won’t have symptoms and may even gain immunity from that and never know it,” Heaton said. 

Those who do display signs of the virus, however, often experience flu-like symptoms which can worsen into a severe form of the disease. 

Symptoms of severe West Nile virus include having high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, disorientation or confusion. The health department advises those experiencing severe symptoms to seek medical attention immediately, as serious cases can result in hospitalization, disability or death. Children, elderly adults and people with poor immune systems are at higher risk of experiencing symptoms, whether mild or severe. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are very few treatment options for people with West Nile Virus. No vaccine or antiviral treatments are available, and the disease is usually treated similar to the flu. Over-the-counter pain relievers and fever-reducers can be taken to relieve symptoms, and in cases where hospitalization is necessary, patients will be given intravenous fluids, pain medication and nursing care. 

Because the virus is spread through mosquitoes, the best way to prevent contracting it is by avoiding the insect’s bites. 

“We encourage residents to be vigilant in protecting themselves from mosquito bites to prevent further infections,” David Blodgett, health department director, said in a press release. 

Mosquito bites can be prevented by avoiding being outside during dusk and dawn when the insects are most active. Mosquito repellent containing DEET, picaridin, lemon oil or eucalyptus oil can also help to prevent bites. It is recommended to wear long-sleeved clothing while outside.

The first case of West Nile virus in the U.S. was recorded in 1999, Heaton said. The first human case was detected in Utah in 2003 and now appears occasionally throughout the state. 

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