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Maricopa County reports its first West Nile virus death of 2019

(Pexels Photo)

PHOENIX – Maricopa County on Thursday reported its first death of the year from the mosquito-borne West Nile virus.

The person who died was an elderly adult with other health issues, according to a Maricopa County Department of Public Health press release.

“This tragic death serves as an important reminder to all of us to do our part in protecting ourselves, our family and our neighborhoods from mosquito-borne diseases,” Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, the county’s disease control medical director, said in the release.

As of July 5, there had been 27 cases of West Nile reported in metro Phoenix, already surpassing the 2018 total of 24. The disease caused six deaths in the county last year.

Testing by the Maricopa County Environmental Services Department has found more than twice as many mosquitoes carrying West Nile this year than in all of 2018.

Mosquito season in the region runs from late April through October. The insects most likely to be carrying the virus are especially active at dawn and at dusk.

“With monsoon season upon us, it’s likely we’ll see even more mosquito activity,” Sunenshine said.

“Use insect repellent whenever you are outdoors, and get rid of water outside your home where mosquitoes can breed, like pet dishes, potted plants, even toys.”

Only about 1 in 5 people infected with the disease show symptoms, which include fever, headache, body aches and muscle weakness.

About 1 in 150 develop a more serious form that can cause inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, with severe cases leading to permanent paralysis or death.

People over 60 with other medical conditions or depressed immune systems are at higher risk for the more serious form of West Nile.

Maricopa County has launched a “Fight the Bite” campaign with the following guidelines to reduce the risk of being bitten by mosquitoes contracting the diseases they carry:

  • Use insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin or other EPA-registered repellents on exposed skin and clothing.
  • Drain and remove any items where water can pool, providing mosquitoes with breeding grounds, including buckets, old tires, plant trays and pet bowls.
  • Scrape the sides inside potted plants where mosquitoes lay their eggs.
  • Make sure screens on doors and windows are tight-fitting and without holes.
  • Wear lightweight clothing that covers your arms and legs.

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