The Maricopa County Department of Public Health is reminding the community to prevent mosquito bites with 19 human cases of West Nile virus infection reported this season, including one death. The individual who died was an older adult who also suffered from additional health issues. Sadly, older adults are most at risk for serious complications of West Nile virus.
“These tragic deaths serve as an important reminder to all of us to do our part in protecting ourselves, our families, and our neighborhoods from mosquito-borne diseases,” said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director of the Disease Control Division at Maricopa County Department of Public Health. “With all the recent rain we’ve had, it’s likely we’ll see more mosquito activity. Apply insect repellent and cover up whenever you are outdoors, and do your part to rid your property of water where mosquitoes like to breed.”
West Nile virus is typically transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. It can cause severe illness in people and horses, although only about 20 percent of those infected will develop any symptoms at all. Those who do develop symptoms usually report fever, headache, body aches, and muscle weakness. Rarely, individuals might experience more severe symptoms including high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, and/or encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain. These severe cases can lead to paralysis or death, and usually occur in those over 50 years old.
“Public Health is working very closely with our surveillance partners and healthcare providers to ensure we have a strong surveillance system for both humans and mosquitoes and prevention strategies in place,” said Dr. Sunenshine.
Maricopa County Health officials urge all people to “Fight the Bite” and follow simple precautions to avoid mosquitoes and the diseases they may carry:
- Avoid mosquito bites day and night
- Wear lightweight clothing that covers your arms and legs
- Use insect repellents containing DEET, Picaridin, or other EPA registered repellants according to the product label on exposed skin and clothing
- Make sure doors and windows have tight-fitting screens and remain closed
- Drain and remove containers that hold water from around your home where mosquitoes can breed, such as plastic covers, buckets, old tires, plant trays, pet bowls, toys, and boats
- Ensure that swimming pools and decorative water features are properly maintained
Maricopa County Environmental Services Department (MCESD) conducts a proactive and aggressive 12-month mosquito surveillance and abatement program. This year, MCESD’s lab has confirmed 62 West Nile virus-positive mosquito samples and 2 Saint Louis encephalitis-positive mosquito samples. No trap has tested positive for Zika, Chikungunya, or Dengue at this time.
“With the recent West Nile virus-related illnesses and the number of infected mosquitoes with this virus in the County, we would like to remind everyone how critical it is to dispose of any standing water, which is required for mosquitoes to breed,” said Steven Goode, MCESD Director.
In 2016, Maricopa County had 95 positive West Nile mosquito samples with 63 West Nile virus human cases and five deaths.