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Maricopa County reporting first West Nile virus death, warning of increase in cases

Why Do Mosquitoes Bite Certain People More Than Others?
Posted at 2:42 PM, Sep 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 17:42:14-04

PHOENIX — Maricopa County health officials are warning the community about West Nile virus after a "significant increase" in the number of cases since last year.

The Department of Public Health says in 2020, there were only three reported cases of West Nile virus in humans and one death. So far this year, the county has confirmed 36 human cases, including one death. Note: Maricopa County data was not readily available for 2019, but the county recorded 24 cases of WNV in 2018, including six deaths. In 2017, 93 cases were recorded, including six deaths. In 2016, there were 63 cases and five deaths. See more data here.

Officials say the person who died was an older adult who had other health conditions.

West Nile is typically spread through the bite of an infected mosquito.

Maricopa County Environmental Services Department has reportedly seen a nearly 400% increase in positive West Nile virus mosquito samples compared to all of last year.

ABC15 also met up with Maricopa County's Vector Control to talk about mosquitoes. The county is getting a ton of calls from people complaining about them.

Uptick in mosquitoes due to monsoon season in the Valley

They have close to a thousand traps spread out across the Valley to get a sense of how bad a neighborhood is. Once they're trapped and taken back to the county's lab, they're counted and tested for diseases.

West Nile virus can cause severe disease, health officials say, but only about one-fifth of those with the infection will develop symptoms.

Symptoms include:

  • Most common: Flu-like illness (fever, headache, body ache, muscle weakness)
  • More severe infections: Neck stiffness, vision loss, paralysis, neurologic symptoms
  • Rare: Encephalitis or meningitis (about 1 in `50 people can develop this)

Those who are over 60 years old, have underlying medical conditions or depressed immune systems are at higher risk of more severe infections of West Nile.

"We all need to do our part to protect ourselves, our family 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, said in a press release. "With so much rain this summer, we all need to stay mindful of eliminating standing water where mosquitos can breed, like pet dishes, potted plants, and even toys."

Ways to avoid mosquito bites:

  • Avoid mosquito bites day and night
  • Use insect repellent containing DEET, Picaridin, or other EPA-registered repellants according to the product label on exposed skin and clothing
  • 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
  • Scrape the sides of the dish or inside potted plants where mosquitoes lay their eggs
  • Make sure doors and windows have tight-fitting screens, no holes, and remain closed
  • If it's not too hot, wear lightweight clothing that covers your arms and legs
  • Ensure that swimming pools and decorative water features are properly maintained