West Nile virus has been found in a dead bird in Kane County, the first case this season. And health officials are urging residents statewide to be vigilant and take precautions to avoid catching the mosquito-borne illness, which can be deadly.

A dead crow in Kane County tested positive for the virus. Although only Salt Lake County is actively testing dead birds as part of a study, the crow was sent to a private veterinary lab and the results were forwarded to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department (SWUPHD) and the state.

"Neither we nor the state have funding this year to test dead birds," said David Heaton, SWUPHD spokesman."But we usually first detect the virus in mosquito pools or sentinel chickens." And those surveillance methods are ongoing.

Most people who become infected with the virus won't even know it, although about 20 percent will develop some flulike symptoms, which range from moderate to severe. The most severe form of infection occurs in fewer than 1 percent of infected people, but for them, infection can be life-altering or life-ending. The illness can range from headache to paralysis and various illnesses of the brain and spinal cord, sometimes causing lengthy or permanent disability.

All ages are at risk, but severe illness is most likely in those who are older. And this year, health officials are emphasizing particular risk to people who have diabetes, regardless of their age, said Jodee Summers, an epidemiologist in the Utah Department of Health.

Weather conditions have favored mosquitoes so far, with wet weather interspersed with the hot temperatures in which they thrive.

Now that the virus is here, prevention belongs in large part to the public, said Dr. David Blodgett, director of the SWUPHD, which covers five southwestern Utah counties. Last year, that health district had three human cases and no fatalities.

Statewide in 2007, there were 70 human cases, including two deaths, and the virus was active in 19 counties. The virus was first detected in early June last year, too.

West Nile is carried by mosquitoes that bite from dusk to dawn, the hours when people who are outside are encouraged to use mosquito repellents containing DEET or picaridin. Wearing long sleeves and pants is important. And to reduce mosquito populations on your property, get rid of standing water. Other tips include keeping grass mowed back and repairing screens on windows and doors.

More information about West Nile is online at health.utah.gov or www.swuhealth.org.

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