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Beware West Nile virus, Utah holidayers are warned

No need to stay in — but protect against mosquitoes

Deseret Morning News graphic

Utahns out playing this weekend need to take precautions against mosquito bites, as the number of human cases of West Nile virus and counties reporting presence of the virus continue to climb.

"In light of Labor Day weekend, we don't discourage people from going out and recreating and getting good physical activity and enjoying our outdoors, but we do encourage them to protect themselves from being bitten by mosquitoes," Utah Health Department spokesman Stephen McDonald said. "The risk is greater right now than it ever has been in the state."

There are now 10 confirmed human cases, four in Utah County, four in Uintah County and two in Duchesne County.

Four of the cases were the more severe, neuro-invasive disease symptoms, which generally occur in only a small percent of cases. Officials say the virus was also detected in a Salt Lake County adult, not included in the official count because there were no symptoms. The virus was found in routine screening of a blood donation.

Officials believe there are actually more human cases, but most people who are infected experience no or very mild symptoms and don't seek medical help. Of those who do, not all have the blood test to verify the diagnosis, McDonald said.

The virus has been detected in three new counties this week, including Juab, where it was found in mosquitoes, and Carbon and Emery. Birds with the virus were found in those counties. Other counties where the virus has been detected are Weber, Davis, Tooele, Salt Lake, Grand and Washington.

"We know the virus is circulating in birds and mosquitoes in more parts of the state this year, so the risk to humans and horses is greater than ever before," Dr. Robert Rolfs, state epidemiologist, said in a written statement. "Utahns need to be vigilant about protecting themselves and their families from West Nile virus by using insect repellents containing DEET and covering up."

Prevention is key. The mosquito that carries West Nile virus flies between dusk and dawn — a period that will increase as days get shorter and winter approaches. The season doesn't end until the first hard frost reduces mosquito activity, so experts are predicting at least another month of possible exposure to the virus.