SALT LAKE CITY — Testing for West Nile Virus in Utah this season has been a fraction of what it was last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mosquito abatement districts and health departments said they’ve shifted resources away from West Nile Virus out of necessity to help in the coronavirus response.
“Fortunately, this year, we’re just not seeing as many positive mosquito pools out there,” said Ary Faraji, executive director and entomologist for the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District.
Faraji is also the current president of the American Mosquito Control Association.
“The mosquitoes aren’t necessarily at home, and we can’t kill mosquitoes from home,” he said.
That’s one reason West Nile Virus testing is down this season.
The seasonal staffing they depend upon for fieldwork is down because of the virus.
Faraji suspected many people, who would have otherwise applied for the jobs, did not apply this year, because they did not want to work during the pandemic.
“It was very difficult for us to make adjustments in the beginning of the season,” he said. “We just didn’t have enough personnel on staff.”
That caused testing to fall behind.
“Unfortunately, up until last week, we’ve only tested at the state level about five percent of what we had done the previous year in 2019,” Faraji said.
Some mosquito abatement districts, like the one in Salt Lake City, suffered a setback after they donated equipment to hospitals.
“For example, we actually donated our extractor machine to Intermountain Healthcare. That way we can assist with statewide coronavirus testing,” said Faraji.
That’s a vital machine that they use in their lab work. Intermountain replaced it with a new one last week, and Faraji expected the extractor will be available for West Nile Virus work soon.
The mosquito abatement district also donated N95 masks and personal protection equipment to health care workers.
“We ended up donating a lot of those to our county health department for example,” Faraji said. “That way they can distribute them to public health workers on the frontline.”
The work of collecting and testing mosquitos did not stop altogether.
Faraji said mosquito abatement districts in the state are ramping up testing this week as West Nile Virus emerges.
“We’re very fortunate that all of our mosquito abatement districts are up to full capacity right now. We do have the proper personnel in place. So that way they can conduct their field operations,” he said.
So far, no human cases of West Nile Virus have been reported and only one positive mosquito pool has been reported in the Uintah Basin.
“The good news is, our surveillance really has not faltered at all this season,” said Faraji. “We are still continuing to place traps in the field. We are still collecting those mosquitoes.”
He reminded everyone to use insect repellent when outside from dusk until dawn and eliminate standing water from their yard to clear out breeding grounds for mosquitoes.