Worries about the spread of the West Nile virus have public health authorities urging people to minimize this year’s threat of rampant infections by eliminating sources of mosquitoes, which have been more prevalent this spring.
With the mosquito season hitting hard, residents need to remove any standing water around their homes, said John Townsend, vector control manager for the Maricopa County Environmental Services Department.
Stagnant water — found in places such as fountains, pet dishes, wheelbarrows and dirty pools — can become breeding grounds for virus-spreading mosquitoes.
"The biggest thing people can do is make sure mosquitoes are not coming from their back yards," said Townsend. "Even a cup size of water can breed hundreds of (mosquito) eggs."
The public plea comes as the county is flooded with telephone calls about mosquitoes. Townsend said there have been 400 to 500 complaints each of the last two months, a 100 percent increase from the same time last year.
The county has stepped up its West Nile control efforts, adding more workers and insect traps. Also, funding is expected for temporary workers to spray mosquitoes.
But the biggest help could come from people who get rid of stagnant water, according to public health authorities, because most mosquito bites come from insects living close by.
Because West Nile seems to have its highest infection rates in the second year the virus is detected, authorities are concerned that Arizona is most vulnerable this year, which would be the state’s second year with West Nile.
Although 14 human cases were reported last year in Arizona, none originated in the state and none was fatal. The virus killed 28 horses and 250 birds in the state.
West Nile is spread when mosquitoes bite infected birds that have migrated into an area. The mosquitoes then bite other animals or people.
The virus can cause encephalitis, swelling of the brain, or meningitis, swelling of the lining of the brain and spinal cord.
But in most cases, infected people show no signs of illness at all or develop flulike symptoms. Less than 3 percent of cases result in serious disease, with senior citizens and those with compromised immune systems most at risk.
The Arizona Department of Health Services is launching a state awareness campaign called "Fight the Bite" about the threat of West Nile.
Gov. Janet Napolitano also has released $100,000 from a special fund to be used by rural counties for mosquito control.
To learn more
For more information about West Nile or the state awareness campaign, call (602) 364-4500 or visit www.westnileaz.com. To make a mosquito or dead bird complaint, call (602) 506-6616.