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COVID-19 grabs headlines, but health officials note West Nile virus a mosquito bite away

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COVID-19 grabs headlines, but health officials note West Nile virus a mosquito bite away

SALT LAKE CITY — The COVID-19 pandemic has not only wreaked havoc with everyday lives, it’s also thrown a wrench in efforts to battle another pesky bug — the mosquito-borne West Nile virus.

But as the state saw its first positive test for the disease in a sample from the Uinta Basin last week, local health officials say the pace of testing will be picking up along the Wasatch Front.

Ary Faraji, executive director of the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District, said the entire mosquito monitoring and testing process has been complicated by the novel coronavirus outbreak. Testing for West Nile by the Utah Department of Health is only about 5% of what was completed in June and mid-July 2019.

Faraji said a lack of personnel and social distancing measures that staggered work times and limited working in teams has impacted the Salt Lake department.

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“We don’t have the luxury of working from home, we have to actually get out into the field where the mosquitoes are,” Faraji said. “If we could kill mosquitoes from home that would be very, very easy for us, but we have to get out.”

West Nile virus is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito and can cause serious illness, particularly for individuals older than 50 and those whose immune systems are compromised, according to Hannah Rettler, an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health.

Rettler said most human cases occur in Utah between June and October, but the good news is most people — 70% to 80% — don’t develop any symptoms.Another problem created by pandemic was a shortage of testing equipment for the […]

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