PHOENIX — The number of West Nile Virus cases in Arizona has already surpassed last year's count and could increase through the fall, health officials said.
The Arizona Department of Health says there are 27 West Nile cases (16 confirmed, 11 probable), in 2019 as of July 5, all in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, news organizations reported Monday.
There were 24 cases in 2018, the department said. Mosquitoes carrying the virus are expected to persist through November, officials said.
"With this many cases this early in the season, you can expect we are going to see a lot more cases than we did last year, and probably more than we've seen in the last five years," said Rebecca Sunenshine, Maricopa County Department of Public Health medical director for disease control.
Up to 20% of people bitten by mosquitoes carrying West Nile develop flu-like symptoms, while fewer cases result in paralysis or death.
There is no cure, officials said. People 60 years and older and those with compromised immune systems have the highest risk of complications, including encephalitis and meningitis, officials said.
Chris Silva's significant other Karen has been hospitalized since June 4 after experiencing flu-like symptoms. Then came meningitis and then the West Nile Virus diagnosis.
Chris says now Karen has encephalitis, which is the swelling of the brain with very little activity.
"She had flu-like symptoms, we got her into the hospital the next thing you knew our worst nightmare came true," said Chris.
"Be careful with mosquitoes because none of us think much of it, but one mosquito can do incredible damage and we had no idea."
Arizona's monsoon season is also the busiest for West Nile cases. Residents should remove standing water in places such as flower pots to prevent mosquitoes from laying eggs, said Jessica Rigler of the Arizona Department of Health Services.
"A lot more infected mosquitoes with higher numbers of disease mean we need to wear insect repellant and clear water out of our yards where mosquitoes can breed," Sunenshine said.
"The community really needs to take it seriously the best I can say is protect yourself," said Chris.
If you want to know if you live in a high mosquito area, or if your neighborhood has been treated for mosquitoes recently, Maricopa County has a map breaking down all those details.