Moab woman contracts West Nile fever

Nance says it’s the less severe form; Salt Lake resident has ‘potentially deadly’ form of the virus

The Moab Mosquito Abatement District said a Moab woman in her 50s has contracted the less severe form of West Nile virus. Manager Libby Nance in an email said the woman, who lives south of town, was diagnosed at a clinic in Moab, which was confirmed by the Utah Department of Health. 

Meanwhile, the Salt Lake County Health Department reports that a local resident there has contracted a rare and potentially deadly form of the West Nile virus, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

The unidentified adult has been hospitalized and is being treated for a neuroinvasive form of the virus. The Tribune reports this is the first case of a human contracting the disease in Salt Lake County this year. It might also be the first case statewide, given that no other county has reported a case of the virus. 

The health department reports 21 mosquitoes in Salt Lake County have tested positive in 2019.

While most people who come into contact with a mosquito carrying the virus never experience any symptoms, others might get a fever, headache and body aches, such as the case of the woman in Moab. The Salt Lake County Health Department reports “more severe infections may include high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors and muscle weakness or convulsions.”

Symptoms appear between 2 and 14 days after an infected mosquito bites a person, according to the report. Here in Grand County, Nance in another press release said the most recent testing of trapped mosquitoes yielded no positive results, but she cautioned the threat remains. Last week, The Daily Sentinel newspaper in neighboring Grand Junction, Colorado reported two mosquitoes trapped in Mesa County tested positive. No humans have been diagnosed with the virus in southwestern Colorado. 

While less than one percent of persons bitten by an infected mosquito contract encephalitis or meningitis in the more severe cases of the virus, other “mild” symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue and skin rash, according to the Mayo Clinic.

In addition to the signs of serious infection listed above, other symptoms can include seizures and partial paralysis. The symptoms of encephalitis or meningitis contracted through the virus “can linger for weeks or months,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “Certain neurological effects, such as muscle weakness, can be permanent.”

The Mayo Clinic encourages people who experience the more severe symptoms to immediately seek medical care. A serious infection “generally requires hospitalization,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

West Nile virus is most commonly spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito, which contracted the virus from feeding on infected birds and then bite people or animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In a minute number of cases, the virus has been spread through exposure in a laboratory, during a blood transfusion or organ donation, and from mother to baby – during pregnancy, delivery or breast feeding, according to the CDC, which points out humans can’t spread it to other humans–or any other living organism–through coughing, sneezing or touching. 

Ilene Risk, epidemiology bureau manager in Salt Lake County, a growing number of mosquitoes are carrying the disease, “so it is now especially important that residents protect themselves from mosquito bites, particularly in the hours from dusk to dawn,” according to the Tribune.

According to the CDC, the mosquitoes can stick around until the first frost of the year, which occurs on Oct. 25 or thereabouts in Moab, according to the Old Farmers’ Almanac. The Moab Mosquito Abatement District has also issued the same cautionary statement regarding the need for Grand County residents to take protective action. 

Here are the recommendations Utahns are encouraged to follow:

  • Use EPA-registered mosquito repellent with DEET, permethrin, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants after dusk.
  • Drain any standing water and clean roof gutters.
  • Clean and stock garden ponds with mosquito-eating fish.
  • Make sure door and window screens are in good repair.
  • Keep grass and weeds cut short.

Davis, Weber and Sevier counties join Grand and Salt Lake as being the five in Utah where the virus has been detected to date, according to the Tribune. In 2018 there were 11 human cases of the virus reported in Utah. One death resulted from the virus. People over the age of 50 and those with weakened immune systems are the most at risk, according to the Salt Lake County Health Department.

Note: This story has been edited to better protect the identity of the resident who contracted West Nile fever.