Michelle Tessier, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Melissa Dimond's life changed the one night she forgot to wear mosquito repellent.
On a mid- to late September evening in 2006, Dimond broke her summer-long streak of applying repellent. It was dusk, and she and her husband had stopped to chat with a neighbor after a tennis game. She thinks this was when a mosquito bit her ankle.
Within a couple of weeks, she developed a rash, fever, nausea, began vomiting and had a hard time connecting thoughts with actions, forgetting how to wash her hands and insert her contact lenses.
Dimond contracted West Nile virus, which turned into meningitis and encephalitis and set off dystonia in her foot, causing it to curl up. She was in the hospital for about a month after the onset of symptoms. It is not common for people to have symptoms as severe as hers were, but at best protecting against mosquitoes would prevent the minor irritation of a bite, she said.
"I had been really, really good about wearing mosquito repellent except for that evening," Dimond said. "This type of illness coming from it is rare, but it's pretty easy to prevent."
So far in 2014, experts have found West Nile virus activity in Box Elder, Uintah Kane, and Washington counties. No human cases have been reported so far in the state, but experts note it is important to protect against the illness that has no known cure.
"There is no treatment. That's why we talk about it as a pre-emptive technique," said Rebecca Ward, health educator at the Utah Department of Health
Crews from the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District have been working since March, checking bodies of water in the city for mosquitoes. The insects tend to congregate near and lay eggs in standing water and have been detected in containers as small as water in a soda lid, according to Sam Dickson, manager of the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District.
Two of the 17 species found in Salt Lake City have the ability to transfer West Nile virus to people, he said. When Dickson's crews find a mosquito population, they send a sample of mosquitos in a test tube to the health department to be tested for West Nile, among other viruses.
Depending on a situation, they will drain high-mosquito population areas or treat them with a bacteria that will kill mosquito larvae and not affect the water. The aim of the abatement is to discover and control mosquito populations before they become problematic. District officials have found that when one of every 1,000 mosquitoes from samples test positive, human cases are soon to follow.
"Once the virus gets into people, it's really too late to do much," Dickson said.
Because there is no treatment for West Nile, health officials say the best thing to do is to prevent bites in the first place.
This includes using an insect repellent with DEET. Children as young as 2 months old can use repellents with DEET. Ward suggests that adults spray the repellent on their hands before spreading it on the child to reduce the chance the child may ingest the spray.
Experts also suggest wearing long-sleeve shirts and pants and removing any body of standing water. Virus-carrying mosquitoes are often out during dawn and dusk hours, according state health officials.
Many who are infected with the virus will not see symptoms, while others may become disoriented, develop a fever, headache or stiff neck. The most serious cases can result in disability or death.
Dimond is several years into recovery but says her life will never be the same. Conditions that resulted from her bout with West Nile now prevent her from participating in cycling, mountain biking and yoga, and she now struggles to keep up her former lifestyle. By taking simple precautions, others may escape similar struggles.
"When prevention is that easy to do, it makes sense to," she said.
Those who discover standing bodies of water or nuisance areas should report them to mosquito abatement. Visit umaa.org/districts.htm to find a local mosquito abatement agency.
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