Elderly man succumbs to West Nile virus; 1st Maricopa Cty. fatality of 2012

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- West Nile virus has claimed its first victim of the 2012 season in Maricopa County -- an elderly man with underlying health issues.

The Maricopa County Department of Public Health reported the death Tuesday morning. Late last month, the department confirmed the first case of the disease, a woman in her 30s who has since recovered.

“This is another example of the seriousness of West Nile virus,” said Dr. Bob England, director of Maricopa County Department of Public Health, in a news release. “Especially after the monsoons like we had this weekend, we all need to do our part to get rid of standing water and curb mosquito breeding as best we can.”

First discovered in Arizona in 2003, West Nile virus is carried by mosquitoes and transmitted by their bites. While only 20 percent of those infected will develop symptoms, the virus can cause serious illness, especially in the elderly.

Symptoms can show up three to 15 days after infection and include fever, headache, body aches, and muscle weakness. Some of the more severe symptoms include high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, and/or encephalitis or inflammation of brain, which can lead to paralysis or death.

“We are seeing a lot of positive mosquito pools and with the continued monsoon, we recognize that the risk for WNV infection will likely continue into the fall,” said John Kolman, director of Maricopa County Environmental Services Department, in a news release.

With that in mind, county health officials have developed a campaign they call "Fight the Bite," offering simple precautions people should take to avoid mosquitoes and prevent infestations.

  • 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.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 25 cases of West Nile virus have been confirmed nationwide as of July 17. In addition to the two Arizona cases, the virus is also being seen in California, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota , Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas right now. Thirteen of those patients suffered the neuroinvasive form of the disease.

Since turning up in Arizona, there have been more than 1,000 confirmed cases reported. The 2011 season was mild with just 45 reported cases.

Maricopa County's worst season on record occurred in 2004. There were 355 confirmed cases of West Nile virus that year. The second-worst season -- 115 cases -- was two years ago in 2010.

For more information on West Nile virus, public health assistance, to report green pools or file any mosquito-related complaint, call the West Nile Virus General Information and Help 602-506-0700 or visit www.maricopa.gov/wnv.