You may feel like summer came early this year. The mosquitoes do, too.
Folks around Utah whose job it is to keep a lid on the mosquito population are worried that tests looking for mosquito larvae that carry West Nile virus turned up positive as far back as April 9. The rate of tests that are turning up the virus in mosquito colonies is running two to three weeks ahead of normal.
The mild winter and the warm spring have pushed local mosquito abatement districts into action, spraying for mosquitoes. But it is up to us, individually, to take the most effective actions to stop the spread of West Nile virus.
The last time West Nile warning signals were this bad, the spring of 2006, Utah was socked with a comparative epidemic. That's when 158 people were known to have taken sick from the virus and five deaths were attributed to the disease.
Of course, it is entirely possible that more, many more, people than that suffered through a bout of West Nile. The virus leaves many of the people who carry it unaffected. Many more will have mild flu-like symptoms that they will shake off in a day or so and never even realize they had anything so exotic as a mosquito-bourne illness that originated in Africa and only appeared in the United States in 1999.
But some people will not be so lucky. Symptoms of West Nile can be severe, especially in people over the age of 50 or with weak immune systems. Bad is dizziness, muscle weakness and a stiff neck. Worse is seizures or a coma. Worst, though very rare, is death.
As far as we can tell, there is only one way to contract West Nile virus. But it is a way that's very hard to avoid in Utah in the summer. And that is being bitten by a mosquito that happens to be carrying the virus.
There is no vaccine for West Nile, and no real cure, other than waiting it out. Mosquitoes that carry the virus do not look or act any differently than virus-free insects.
The only real action anyone can take is prevention. So:
• Make sure your property is clear of standing water or tall weeds, favorite breeding spots for mosquitoes.
• Bird baths, ponds and other places that are supposed to have water in them can be treated with chemicals, or even stocked with larvae-eating fish.
• Virus-carrying bugs are active from dusk to dawn. When you are out then, wear long sleeves, long pants and use mosquito repellent with DEET.
• Make sure your screens are intact on your home, trailer, camper, etc.
The bloodstream you save could be your own.