Prevention Is Best Bet For The Bugs Of Summer


The warm weather brings many things with it, both wanted and unwanted. Among the unwanted are the various infections that flare up this time of year such as West Nile Virus, Vesicular Stomatitis and Pertussis (whooping cough). All are already making their presence known around the state, according to health officials.

West Nile Virus

Dusk until dawn are peak biting times for many species of mosquitoes. Experts at the Centers for Disease Control believe that West Nile Virus is a seasonal epidemic in North America that flares up in the summer and continues into the fall. It is spread by mosquito bites.

Before these insect pests can take a bite out of you, there are some preventive measures you can take according to the Gila County Health Department and the CDC.

Apply insect repellent containing DEET to exposed skin when you go outdoors. Even being outside for a short time can be long enough to get a mosquito bite.

The chance that an individual is going to become ill from the bite of a single mosquito remains low. According to the GCHD, people over 50 are more at risk for severe illness, although people of all ages can become ill. Data from the CDC website states that only 1 in 150 people will become seriously ill from West Nile Virus and only 20 percent of those people will display milder symptoms.

Matt Bolinger, epidemiologist for Gila, Graham and Greenlee counties said that there has been no West Nile activity in Gila County so far in 2005.

Countywide recommendations to decrease the chances of being bitten by mosquitoes include:

  • Avoid outside activity at dawn and dusk.
  • Wear protective clothing.
  • Use insect repellent.
  • Some mosquitoes like to come indoors for a sip of your blood. Keep them outside by having well-fitting, tight screens on your doors and windows.
  • Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water. Limit the number of places around your home with standing water so they won't have places to breed. Trash in parks and vacant lots should be cleaned up to prevent standing water. Drain all standing water.
  • Stock permanent ponds with fish that eat mosquito larvae.
  • Change water in flower pots, bird baths and pet dishes at least twice a week.
  • Horse owners should consult with their veterinarian about vaccinating their horses.

Residents who suspect that they have contracted the West Nile Virus should seek consultation with their health care provider immediately to order tests to screen for the infection.

West Nile affects the central nervous system. Symptoms vary from mild to serious and can last one day to several weeks. The neurological effects in serious cases may be permanent. Mild symptoms include fever, headache, and body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. Four out of five people who are infected with WNV will not show any symptoms at all.

Dead birds and squirrels may be a sign that West Nile is circulating between mosquitoes and wildlife in the area. Contact Gila County Health Department at (928) 474-1210 or (928) 425-3189, ext. 8811 to report dead squirrels and birds.

Vesicular Stomatitis

The Arizona Department of Agriculture has confirmed three case of Vesicular Stomatitis (VS) in horses. One in Wittmann, and two in Camp Verde. The premises where the cases were discovered have been quarantined.

"Vesicular Stomatitis can cause severe economic losses to livestock producers," said Katie Decker, public relations officer for the ADA.

"It is a particularly significant disease because its outward signs are similar to those of foot-and-mouth disease which was eradicated from the United States in 1929."

The only way to tell VS from foot-and-mouth disease is through laboratory tests.

Humans can also become infected with VS by unsafe handling of animals that have it, but the state has no human cases to report.

It cannot be passed to humans by consumption, Decker said.

VS causes blister-like lesions to form in the mouth and on the dental pad, tongue, lips, nostrils, hooves and teats. When the blisters swell and break they leave raw tissue. The tissue is so painful that the animals refuse to eat and drink and show signs of lameness. Severe weight loss follows.

In dairy cows, a severe drop in milk production commonly occurs.

The following actions were recommended to the horse owners involved in the three known cases:

  • Separate animals with lesions from healthy animals, preferably by stabling. Animals on pastures are apparently more affected by this disease.
  • As a precautionary measure, do not move animals from premises affected by VS unless they are going directly to slaughter.
  • Implement on-farm insect control programs that include the elimination or reduction of insect breeding areas. Use insecticide sprays.
  • Use protective measures when handling affected animals to avoid human exposure to the disease.

The last VS outbreak the Southwest experienced was in May of 1998 through May of 1999. VS normally has a five- to eight-year cycle.

Horses, swine and cattle are most at risk, although other animals may also contract the disease.

Contact your veterinarian or the state veterinarian's office at (602) 542-4293 immediately if you suspect you have animals with this problem. More information is available at

Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

The highly contagious respiratory infection Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is making a comeback.

The vaccine against Pertussis became available in the United States in the 1940s. Since widespread use of the vaccine for infants began, only about 4,400 cases happen per year.

Gila County saw a few cases back in September, according to Matt Bolinger, epidemiologist from Gila County. In the last six months there has been only one confirmed case.

Pertussis is a human disease according to the Centers for Disease Control. No animal or insect source is known to exist.

Transmission most commonly occurs by the respiratory route through contact with respiratory droplets, or by contact with airborne droplets of respiratory secretions.

Preventive steps include:

  • Covering your mouth when you cough;
  • Washing your hands after handling the clothing and bedding of an ill person.

Pertussis generally starts with cold-like symptoms according to Bolinger. Those symptoms last one or two days while the coughing becomes more severe. After one or two weeks the patient has bursts of numerous, rapid coughs.

"The whoop comes from trying to take the breath in," Bolinger said.

During such an attack the patient may become cyanotic (turn blue). Post tussive vomiting mucus usually occurs after the episode. Children and young infants especially appear very ill and distressed although the patient generally appears normal between attacks.

Since January, 86 residents of Pima County and 51 in Maricopa County have been diagnosed with Pertussis.

"Usually what you see with a disease in metro areas is it spills over when people visit rural areas," said Bolinger.

Local pediatrician, Dr. Dexter DeWitt has treated a family with Pertussis in his career. They didn't believe in immunization, he said, so when the grandfather came visiting, the grandbaby caught it. "They had a kid who was turning blue ... They did a test on all of the family members. The one that was having the symptoms tested positive, but we treated all four people with antibiotics.

"(Pertussis) used to be, before immunization, the No. 1 cause of death from infection in children in the first year of life."

"All recommended childhood vaccinations are provided by the GCHD. Pertussis is recommended for children," said Bolinger.

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