It is a viral infection not to be taken lightly.
As reported in last Tuesday’s edition, and again in today’s, West Nile virus has been found present in a series of water bodies in northern Tooele Valley.
Last Tuesday, it was reported that tests came back positive for West Nile in five mosquito pools near Stansbury Park, Lake Point and Grantsville. Today’s edition reports that two additional pools have tested positive at Benson Gristmill, which further increases the chance of residents and visitors getting bit by a mosquito carrying the virus.
But even more sobering is the news about a West Nile-related fatality in Salt Lake County. A resident there, over 65 years old, reportedly died two weeks ago from complications caused by the virus, according to a news release from the Tooele County Health Department.
The disease is mostly spread to humans and horses by mosquitoes that have bitten a bird or birds infected with the virus. Last year, six Utahns died from West Nile, two from nearby Salt Lake County. There is no vaccine or specific antiviral treatments for the disease in humans.
West Nile virus was discovered in the West Nile District of Uganda in 1937, according to the World Health Organization. In 1999, a strain of the virus circulating in Israel and Tunisia was imported to New York City and produced a large, dramatic outbreak that spread throughout the U.S. in following years.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eight out of 10 people infected with West Nile do not develop any symptoms. About 1 in 5 people who are infected develop a fever with other symptoms, such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. Most who experience such symptoms completely recover but may feel fatigue and weakness for weeks or months.
But there are people who can suffer much worse. According to the CDC, about 1 in 150 people who are infected develop West Nile neuroinvasive disease, which affects the central nervous system, such as encephalitis or meningitis.
Symptoms of severe illness include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis.
Such symptoms can strike people of any age, but anyone over 60 is more at risk. So, too, are people who have cancer, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, or have undergone an organ transplant.
Recovery can take several weeks or months, but some effects to the central nervous system might be permanent. About 1 out of 10 people who experience such severe West Nile symptoms die, according to the CDC.
Because there is no vaccine or specific antiviral treatments for West Nile in humans, the only preventative measure is to avoid being bitten. Because of the potential health risks associated with West Nile, residents and visitors are urged to use the following guidelines from the health department:
With West Nile confirmed in local mosquitoes, the public is urged to remain vigilant for the rest of the summer. Mosquitoes are small, relentless and can be exceptionally pernicious. Respect their bite and protect yourself.