ST. GEORGE — The warmer climate has brought on mosquito season in southern Utah, and along with it the first confirmed case of West Nile virus.
The Southwest Utah Public Health Department on Thursday confirmed that mosquitoes in the area carry the virus, which can cause encephalitis and flu-like symptoms, and even more serious conditions in people with compromised immune systems.
It is the first finding of West Nile virus in Utah this year, although samples of mosquitoes have been collected for testing in Grand, Utah, Salt Lake and Davis counties. Results of those tests have yet to be confirmed.
Infected mosquitoes were found in Washington County, where officials are cautioning people to use mosquito repellent, especially between the hours of dusk and dawn when mosquito populations are most active, according to health department spokesman David Heaton.
"Typically, in southern Utah, mosquito season starts earlier than the rest of the state," Heaton said. "It is a good opportunity for us to remind people to protect themselves."
Individuals can avoid contracting West Nile virus from mosquitoes by wearing repellent containing DEET or picaridin, chemicals that are most effective in repelling the insects. It is also advised to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors, avoid mosquito-infested areas, remove any standing water and use mosquito netting when sleeping outdoors.
Symptoms of West Nile virus can include sudden fever, fatigue, aches and pains, headache and rash, according to the health department. Medical attention should be sought at sudden onset of fever, neck stiffness, disorientation or paralysis.
The virus was first documented on the East Coast in the late 1990s and was confirmed in Utah in 2003, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is most often found in birds and mosquitoes, but humans and horses serve as active hosts of the virus.
More than 6,270 human cases were reported in the U.S. last year, including five in Utah. One Utahn — an 84-year-old Box Elder County man — died from the virus in October 2012.
People over age 50 and those with weakened immune systems are most likely to contract a more serious illness or potentially die from the virus, according to the Utah Department of Health.