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West Nile Turns Up in Utah, But Not in People So Far

  Katie Montenegro is a vector control technician at the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District. She’s in the lab, peering through a magnifying glass at a pile of dead mosquitos. She picks one.

“On its proboscis, where they would bite you, they have a white band," she says. "So, that’s how I identify that this is a culex tarsalis mosquito.”

Montenegro’s sorting hundreds of mosquitoes, separating the annoying ones from those that can carry diseases like the West Nile virus. Sorting like this has helped the Utah Health Department detect the virus in mosquitoes from Weber, Davis, Tooele and Salt Lake counties. And it it prompted a warning.

With the mosquito season bearing down just as Utah’s gets ready for Pioneer Day celebrations, the key ingredients for West Nile infections are coming together: mosquito-friendly weather and evening activities. Sammie Dickson, manager of the abatement district, says not all Utah mosquitoes carry West Nile.

“The good thing about that is the two species that transmit the disease only bite from dusk until dawn. They do not bite in the daytime.”

Dickson says that could change someday. But for now, it’s simple for Utahns to protect themselves.

“So, from dusk until dawn,” he says, “gotta put your DEET on or you’ve got to put your repellent on.”

The Utah Health Department has logged eight West Nile deaths since 2006. But reports of human infections have declined steadily over the years, and 2012 was the last time the virus killed someone in Utah. No reports of humans being infected have come in so far this year.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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