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West Nile virus disease claims life of Carbon County resident


A dead bird is swabbed to be tested for West Nile Virus. To date, no birds or mosquitoes have tested positive in Carbon County in 2006. But the death of a local man infected with the disease confirms that the virus is present in the local area and the public should take precautions to avoid falling victim to the illness.

A Carbon County man died from West Nile Virus on Tuesday morning.

The death occurred despite the fact that the health department recently reported tests on sentinel birds and captured mosquitoes have not shown the virus to be present in the area to date in 2006.

"The only thing that we know has shown up so far in testing was a horse that tested positive in Emery County," indicated Terry Wright of the Southeastern Utah Health District.

The epidemiologist for the public health district is still trying to track down the details of the case involving the man, said Wright.

The department was notified of the case on Monday and the man died on Tuesday so the health district has a chance to talk with the victim, who was older than 65 years of age.

To date, the Utah Department of Health has confirmed that 65 human cases of West Nile Virus have been reported in 2006.

At the same time last year, 12 cases had been reported.

"We worry that people aren't taking the threat of this disease seriously," stated Wright.

The West Nile virus disease was first detected in Carbon County in 2003 when serious testing began.

"If this season follows a similar pattern to last year, we could possibly see more deaths and many more cases," indicated Dr. Robert Rolfs, state epidemiologist.

"The end of summer does not mark the end of West Nile virus. Utahns still need to protect themselves by wearing DEET and long sleeves and pants when outdoors from dusk until dawn," emphasized the state health department epidemiologist.

West Nile virus was first detected in the United States in the late 1990s in New Jersey.

The disease steadily migrated west over the next five years until it had virtually touched every region in the continental U.S.

The disease is carried long distances by certain types of birds.

Mosquitoes pick the virus up from birds and the disease is carried to other forms of life.

The animals that are most susceptible to the disease are horses.

The risk of West Nile virus continues to exist statewide.

Mosquitoes carrying the disease will continue to be around throughout September and even into October in warmer areas of the state.

Public health officials are concerned by the high number of cases.

Roughly one-half of the reported human cases have been neuro-invasive, the most serious form of the disease. Many people have been hospitalized and deaths have occurred.

Although the majority of cases have occurred in individuals over the age of 40, cases have been reported in people of all ages.

There is no age where the risk of disease does not exist.

In the early days of the virus, the U.S. Center for Disease Control put out warnings aimed primarily at people older than 50 because the tendency to develop severe cases of the disease were higher in the age bracket.

But due to the fact that some younger people are getting strong cases, the national warnings may change.

"Mosquito activity has increased in our county in the last two weeks due to the recent storms. We expect it to get worse before it gets better," said David Cunningham, health officer for southeastern Utah district .

One in every five people exposed to the virus have exhibited severe flu-like symptoms with fever, muscle aches and possibly a rash.

About one in 150 develop more severe illness affecting the brain and spinal cord. The infected individuals may have headache, paralysis, and stiff neck, and may suffer long-lasting effects.

Permanent disability and obviously based on this weeks events, death can result as well.

"There is no treatment for West Nile virus, only supportive care," said Rolfs. "Your best protection is prevention."

Exposure can occur anywhere, including at home. Mosquitoes often breed in backyards, wherever there is standing water. Preventing mosquito bites is the way to avoid getting WNV. Precautionary measures include:

•Using mosquito repellents that contain DEET when outdoors from dusk to dawn.

•Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants while outdoors.

•Getting rid of standing water around the house and yard to reduce the number of mosquitoes (old tires, buckets, wading pools, etc.).

"A lot of people just aren't protecting themselves," stated Wright. "I recently went to a class reunion that was held outside and I was surprised how many people were using insect repellent with DEET. This disease is a threat to people in our community."






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