Maricopa County Public Health Confirms First 2010 Death From West Nile Virus

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PHOENIX - After reporting 5 cases of West Nile virus last week, Maricopa County Department of Public Health announced today that one of its cases has died from the disease. The victim, an elderly woman with pre-existing health conditions, was a resident living in the East Valley of Maricopa County.

“No matter what the age or the condition of a person, it is always sad to lose a member of our community from any disease,” said Dr. Bob England, director of Maricopa County Department of Public Health. “The most important thing for us to remember is that just because our first cases and death are in the East Valley, experience tells us that eventually, we will again see it in all parts of the Valley.”

To date, Maricopa County has 10 cases of West Nile virus with most of them appearing in the East Valley.

“Unfortunately, most of these cases in Maricopa County and in the state have the more severe form of West Nile virus which is meningitis and/or encephalitis,” said Craig Levy, ADHS Vector Control Program Manager. “Because most people with milder symptoms of West Nile stay at home and don’t seek medical care, we rarely hear of these cases. That means there are a lot more people sick with West Nile than we know of.”

So far this year, more than 100 mosquito samples have tested positive for West Nile virus all over the state, although many have been in the East Valley.

“Maricopa and Pinal Counties have been finding a lot of positive mosquitoes in the East Valley, so it is not surprising the human cases are from that area,” Levy said. “Just because the first mosquitoes and human cases were in that area, it is not limited. People all over Arizona need to take this seriously.”

West Nile virus can cause severe illness in people and horses, although only about 20% of those infected will develop flu-like symptoms: fever, headache, body aches and muscle weakness. Some people, especially the elderly, may experience more severe symptoms including high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, and/or encephalitis or inflammation of the brain.

West Nile virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. Maricopa and Pinal County Health officials as well as ADHS urge all people to “Fight the Bite” and follow simple precautions to avoid mosquitoes and the diseases they may carry:

Avoid outside activity between dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.

Wear lightweight clothing that covers your arms and legs and use an insect repellent if you must be outdoors when mosquitoes are active. Always follow the directions on the label.

Make sure doors and windows have tight fitting screens and remain closed.

Eliminate mosquito-breeding sites around the home by removing standing water in potted plants, tires, bird baths and other containers where water may collect.

Ensure that swimming pools and decorative water features are properly maintained.

Change water in flowerpots, birdbaths and pet watering bowls located outdoors at least twice per week.

Many local vector control programs around the state have been treating mosquito breeding habitats and some counties have been fogging to kill the specific mosquito that spreads West Nile virus. If you notice green pools in your neighborhood, talk to your neighbors or notify your county.

West Nile virus was first found in Arizona in 2003. Since then, over 900 human cases have been reported. The worst year was 2004 with 391 human cases and 16 deaths. Last year, there were only 20 human cases of West Nile in Arizona and no deaths.

In Maricopa County, for more information on West Nile virus, to set-up an appointment to obtain mosquito eating fish at no cost to you, to report green pools, file any mosquito related complaint, register on the Fogging Notification System or for WNV materials or presentations for your group/organization, please call the West Nile Virus General Information and Help Line at (602) 506-0700, or visit http://www.maricopa.gov/wnv.

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