Neglected pools linked to West Nile virus.
With West Nile virus reaching epidemic proportions in Arizona, public health officials here are citing neglected pools as a major contributor to the problem.
Poorly maintained pools can provide a fertile breeding ground for mosquitoes, the prime culprit in spreading WNV. The Maricopa County Environmental Services Department said approximately 25 percent of its mosquito complaints stem from dirty pools.
"Abandoned and neglected swimming pools have always been a problem, but until West Nile came along, the main issue was kids drowning," said Will Humble, bureau chief for disease control at the Arizona Department of Health Services. "Now, West Nile has moved to the forefront."
So far this year, more than 300 of the nation's 600-plus West Nile cases have been in Arizona, along with four of the 15 reported deaths. Nearly all the cases have been in Maricopa County, which includes the Phoenix metro area.
When the first case of West Nile appeared in Arizona, health officials realized there may be a link to neglected pools and turned to the media for help, Humble said.
"We talked about it a lot on the radio," he recalled. "We were telling them to be a nosy neighbor. We got a lot of cases that way. [Citizens] were fuming [complaints] in to the county health department faster than they could handle them."
As result, Maricopa County health officials had to restructure their department and move restaurant inspectors to the pool inspection department.
To quell the spreading epidemic, the state's Department of Health Services has issued an emergency administrative order that allows officials to enter a property if the owner cannot be located and add a larvicide to a pool they've determined to be a health hazard.
"The law applies to all 15 counties in the state," said Lee Olson, environmental health manager of Maricopa County. "We always try to contact the owner. If it's all locked up, we won't try to jump over the fence. But sometimes if we can see the pool from a neighbor's property, we will lob the larvicide over the fence."
While them is no official count of residential pools in Arizona, Humble said that his department estimates the number at 600,000. He pointed out that even if most of those pools are well-maintained, there are still too many neglected.
"Let's say 99 percent are doing everything right, and only 1 percent [are neglected]," he said. "Do the math. Out of 600,000, that is 6,000 abandoned pools and that is unacceptable."