NMDOH reports 10 cases of West Nile Virus, expects more

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The New Mexico Department of Health is reporting a higher number of West Nile Virus cases than normal, and they expect more by the end of the summer.

“At this point, I wouldn’t call what we’re seeing unprecedented,” said New Mexico public health veterinarian Erin Phipps. “We are seeing a fairly high number of cases, especially this early in the year.”

As of Friday, there were 10 confirmed cases across the state. 2 patients are currently hospitalized with the disease. There were only 11 cases across the entire state in 2022 – 2 of which were fatal.

“It can be a very, very severe disease among some individuals, either fatal or culminating in long-term health problems,” she said. There is no specific treatment for West Nile Virus.

Phipps says the virus reacts differently in each person. She says roughly 20% of infected people will show symptoms and only 1% will see serious symptoms. She says the vast majority of infected people are asymptomatic, but she adds they will test positive on a blood test.

Phipps says “West Nile Season” typically runs from late July through late September. She says most cases each year are typically reported in August, and she predicts more monsoon storms could increase case numbers.

“A little bit higher humidity and also slightly lower temperatures could combine to help the mosquito population grow, unfortunately,” she said. “The key is mosquito prevention, so preventing mosquitoes breeding where you can and also preventing them from biting you.”

Mosquitoes are well-known vectors of the virus. Phipps says extra spring runoff may have contributed to higher mosquito populations around the bosque, but she says it’s hard to say if that’s directly driving the increase in cases. New Mexico reports a handful of cases each year – regardless of moisture levels.

Health officials are urging everyone to remove standing water around their homes weekly. Phipps says that includes pet water dishes and bird baths.

“Mosquitoes take about a week to complete the reproduction cycle,” she said. “By cleaning those items out weekly, you can interrupt that cycle and prevent them from breeding.”

Officials with the City of Albuquerque’s Environmental Health Department say you can report standing water by calling 311.