Wet monsoon in Arizona brings record-high season for West Nile virus

Sep 23, 2021, 4:45 AM | Updated: 7:31 am
(Pixabay photo)...
(Pixabay photo)
(Pixabay photo)

PHOENIX — This year’s wet monsoon in Arizona has created the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, and that’s leading to a record-high season for the West Nile virus.

So far this year, 132 cases and five deaths have been reported in Arizona and nearly all have been in Maricopa County, according to the latest state data.

That’s up from 11 cases and two deaths last year, which produced one of the driest monsoon seasons on record.

“There are a lot more cases that occur than what is reported,” Dr. Thomas Grys, co-director of microbiology at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

He explained that’s because only about 20% of people with the virus experience any symptoms, including fever, nausea, headaches and body aches.

Grys said people who get these symptoms may think they have another virus, like COVID-19, and never get tested.

He recently got tested for the West Nile virus after he experienced a moderate fever, fatigue and muscle aches during Labor Day weekend. His test came back positive.

“After about 2-3 days, my fever went away and then I got a rash,” he said. “This is another pretty classic presentation of West Nile.”

Only a small number of people with the West Nile virus experience severe illness.

“Less than 1% can go on to have neuroinvasive disease, which can be very serious and include high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation and mental status changes,” Grys said.

“A lot of these people require hospitalization and can have prolonged illness.”

He added older people and those with a weakened immune system who get the West Nile virus face a higher risk for developing neuroinvasive disease.

In a blog post this week, the Arizona Department of Health Services recommended steps people can take to prevent mosquito bites.

It recommended using insect repellent, making sure open windows and doors have intact screens, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and eliminating standing water where mosquitos lay their eggs.

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Wet monsoon in Arizona brings record-high season for West Nile virus