4
| Health |

Rare Virus Outbreak Means Maricopa County Mosquitoes Doubly Dangerous

^
Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Phoenix and help keep the future of New Times free.

Arizona is calling in U.S. health officials to investigate an outbreak of the rare — and sometimes fatal — mosquito-borne illness St. Louis Encephalitis.

Nationally, there are typically only about 20 cases of St. Louis Encephalitis annually, says Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for the Disease Control Division at the Maricopa County Department of Public Health. But just in Maricopa County since July, the disease has killed one and infected 11 others.

At the same time, Sunenshine says, the county has kicked off what’s looking to be a “pretty heavy” season for the West Vile virus. Forty-two people have contracted the disease, which also is transmitted through mosquito bites, and two people have died.

This is the first time officials have seen the two viruses at the same time and in the same place, she said.

Both West Nile and St. Louis Encephalitis are transmitted through birds. Previously, scientists thought the viruses did not spread concurrently because a bird that gets West Nile is immune to St. Louis Encephalitis.

“We can’t say much more because we don’t know," Sunenshine said.

A team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention visited Arizona last week to investigate the situation and train healthcare providers how to test for St. Louis Encephalitis.

The symptoms for the two diseases are similar. About 80 percent of infected people feel fine. Twenty-percent of people experience flu-like headaches and muscle aches. In less than 1 percent of cases, typically those involving the chronically ill or people over the age of 50, the viruses invade the brain or spinal cord, causing paralysis or death.

“They are so similar that no physician is going to be able to tell the difference by looking,” Sunenshine said. “It’s important for healthcare providers to know if they are testing for a disease that looks just like West Nile and the test comes back negative, there’s another disease that looks just like it.”

There is no vaccine and no treatment for either West Nile or St. Louis Encephalitis, so “prevention is vital,” Sunenshine says. 

To lower your risk of infection, the Maricopa County Department of Public Health recommends using insect repellent that has DEET, picardin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus and wearing long sleeves and pants.

Mosquitos breed in standing water, so the county suggests changing the water in bird baths and pet bowls twice weekly, properly maintaining decorative ponds and pools, and checking for puddles after rain storms.

For more tips, visit www.fightthebitemaricopa.com.

Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

 

Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.

 

Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.