Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

December 13, 2010


Host: Ted Simons

West Nile Virus


  • Arizona is leading the nation for 2010 in cases of mosquito-spread West Nile Virus. Dr. Bob England, Director of the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, discusses this unusual phenomenon.
Guests:
  • Dr. Bob England - Director, Maricopa County Department of Public Health
Category: Medical/Health

View Transcript
Ted Simons: According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, Arizona this year leads the nation in cases of West Nile Virus. Here with more on that and an update on flu season is Dr. Bob England, director of the Maricopa County department of public health. Dr. Bob, always good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

Bob England: Good to see you.

Ted Simons: Worst in the country for West Nile? What's going on here?

Bob England: Oh, yeah. And I wish I knew why. There are lots of different thoughts about it. The CDC was helping us look at it to try and understand why so much here and why so much of it was focused in the east valley. Especially early in the season. Looking at ecological factors, different species of birds, maybe different types of birds that were more or less hospitable to the virus, mosquitoes, differences in the way we're diagnosing or testing for it now. The jury is still out on what's going to be the cause.

Ted Simons: Sometimes with things like crime statistics, just the act of reporting, the process of reporting can just mess with the numbers in a variety of different ways.

Bob England: Sure.

Ted Simons: Are we maybe looking at something like that here?

Bob England: You know, I don't think so, because the fraction of the reported cases that are what we call neuroinvasive, sicker people, meningitis encephalitis, the fraction of those remained about the same through all the different years. This year it was a legitimate increase. We saw a big increase -- big, up to 11 people in blood donors, people who had no symptoms went in to give blood and were found to be positive. So it was a real increase this year. What's behind it, I'm not sure. Take-home point is, whatever was behind this increase, this disease is here to stay there. Are going to be years like this last one where it will probably spike. It will cause a significant number of cases of serious illness and significant number of deaths, and we all better not get too complacent about it. Next season we're probably going to be even more than ever asking for public participation. Look around your house, cleaning up any places that mosquitoes might be, stay tuned as the season begins, there will probably be special requests of people to try and dampen the amount of mosquitoes breeding in your yards as well as your neighbors' yards.

Ted Simons: You mentioned the season. What is the season for West Nile Virus?

Bob England: Long here. We're still not quite out of it because of our warmer temperatures. And it will pick up -- mosquitoes will start breeding late in the winter is our temperatures start to warm up. By march you'll be seeing some.

Ted Simons: OK. You mentioned the east valley, Gilbert, Chandler, Tempe, for some reason the numbers there were unusually high.

Bob England: Right.

Ted Simons: Any indication at all what's going on?

Bob England: We have a lot of theories. You could speculate farming communities, horse properties, flood irrigation, but you know what? That's the same every year. Why this one year there was such a spike, we really don’t know.

Bob England: And there's still research going on in terms of resistance to pesticides of mosquitoes, perhaps variance in the virus itself, they're looking for all kinds of potential factors.

Ted Simons: So when we talk about preventing West Nile Virus, what do we need to do?

Bob England: Same old, same old. Try to avoid mosquito bites. Use repellent if you're outside, especially at dusk and dawn, when the mosquitoes are most active, and you notice yourself getting bit for crying out loud, go inside and do your business outside later. Keep your screens in good shape so mosquitoes aren't coming inside your house. And most importantly, get rid of those little bodies of water that breed mosquitoes all around all of our yards.

Ted Simons: Little things like the catch area for plants, if you water a plant too much and it builds up in that basin --

Bob England: the saucer around a potted plant, absolutely. In the middle of our summer, when it's really hot, it will hold water for even a few days, that's enough time for a mosquito to lay eggs and for those eggs to hatch into mosquitoes.

Ted Simons: Are there different -- I think we've all been outside and suffered from ankle biters, the ones getting you all over the ankles. Are those the kind to watch out for? It is the ones that buzz around your face?

Bob England: There are different species of mosquitoes that are more adept at carrying West Nile than others. They tend not to be floodwater mosquitoes, the ones that drive us the most crazy, the ankle biters that you're talking about. But you're never going to be able to tell which one is which -- when you're out there in your yard. So common sense precautions against all of them. Trying to avoid breathing around your yard, and use common sense to keep yourself from getting bit. Cover up or use repellent.

Ted Simons: All right. And until we know more about this, that's got to be the best answer, correct?

Bob England: You know, even when know more about it, it's still going to be the best answer, and this coming season we're going to be asking for people's help.

Ted Simons: OK. Let's -- before we let you go, we want to ask you about the flu season. How it is shaping up here?

Bob England: Here it is again. Yes, we're beginning to see numbers in different categories give us hints of an increase. Small outbreaks, increases in influenza like illness noticed in different places. Increases of actual laboratory confirmed cases, but just beginning. So we're right at the cusp of starting our regular flu season.

Ted Simons: Does it look like it's any different, any more or less than previous seasons?

Bob England: It's too early to tell, it really is. There's some places where last year's pandemic strain of H1N1 is popping up and causing some -- some level of concern. Britain I just saw a report out of where they've had about 10 deaths so far from the old pandemic strain. This year's flu shot covers for as it always does, three different strains, including H1N1 and this year they're using that pandemic strain as the strain they're protecting against in the flu shot. So one shot does it for you, it's still not too late to go out and get it. I wish you'd done it a month ago if you haven't gotten your flu vaccine, because it takes two or three weeks for your body to build antibodies, so don't wait much longer. Our flu season often doesn’t really get going until January, February, so there's time if you can get it.

Ted Simons: And last question, just for my edification, because I wonder about these things, you mentioned the flu season doesn't start until really the weather gets the coldest. If there's a La Nina year where it doesn't rain so much, or a warmer than usual winter, a colder than usual winter, does that impact the flu?

Bob England: That's a great question. You know, there is some limited data on survival of the virus being different with different temperatures, levels of humidity, and so forth. I don't think that explains much of it. Bottom line, it's going to be here in its usual season when it always is. It's almost like it watches the calendar and just shows up at the right time each year. And common sense precautions, flu vaccine, washing your hand, covering your cough, and please, please, please stay home and keep your kids home when they're sick.

Ted Simons: All right. Dr. Bob, good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

Bob England: Thank you.

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