As the weather warms, Cochise County residents and visitors alike begin to spend more time hiking and camping in the region’s beautiful mountains, sharing the space with the region’s wealth of insect and animal life.
While it is perfectly possible to coexist peacefully with the local wildlife, everyone should be aware of the health dangers presented by certain insects and creatures. Greg McQuaide, public health emergency preparedness coordinator for Cochise County and an avid outdoorsman himself, visited Thrive, a Wellness Center at Canyon Vista Medical Center, last week in order to share some information about staying safe in the desert.
“He is a wealth of knowledge on anything from vaccinations to rabies to mosquito bites,” said Thrive coordinator Ericka Sullins, who has had McQuaide given talks at the wellness center before.
McQuaide’s talk focused on disease-carrying bugs and critters in the region.
People who thought the desert was free of these blood-sucking arachnids are sadly mistaken, McQuaide said.
While ticks in Southern Arizona don’t carry lyme disease, an illness typically associated with the pests, they do carry other dangerous diseases, he said.
“We have a special tick that doesn’t belong here,” he said. “(The gulf tick) is found in all the way along the Gulf Coast . . . It’s here now, and it’s doing rather well.”
Gulf ticks, which health officials have found along the San Pedro River, the Whetstone Mountains and in Huachuca Canyon, carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and similar fevers, McQuaide said. Common brown dog ticks can also be found in the county, which is why it is so important to guard yourself and your pets against them.
“A lot of people don’t necessarily treat their dogs for fleas and ticks because it’s not a huge thing here. But if you’re going to have your animal around one of those areas, I highly recommend it,” he said.
Besides checking and treating pets for ticks, people can guard themselves against bites by using insect repellent with at least 30% DEET, treating clothing with permethrin, and removing ticks as soon as possible, as that reduces the chances of them passing on infected blood.
Another small, but potentially dangerous, blood-sucker found in Cochise County is the mosquito. Two species make their home in the area, McQuaide said: the aedes aegypti, which proliferates in urban areas, and the culex, varieties of which are found in fields, parks and forests.
“I’ve been collecting mosquitoes in this county during monsoon season for an eight-week period with a researcher from the University of Arizona for the last two years,” he said.
In the last two years, two infected mosquitoes have been found at the 24 test sites. They were carrying West Nile Virus and Saint Louis encephalitis, he said.
The mosquito that people should be particularly cautious of is the aedes aegypti, which prefers to feast on humans and can carry diseases including dengue fever, chikungunya, Zika fever, and yellow fever.
“Here’s the problem with the aedes mosquito: it can breed in a bottle cap of water,” McQuaide said. “The culex breeds in ponds and lakes, or your waterfall feature in your yard. The aedes will breed anywhere it can.”
Want to keep pesky mosquitoes out of your yard? Make sure it is clear of any and all water, including in children’s toys and pet bowls left outside. You can also contact the county if you neighbors have scummy standing water on their properties, McQuaide said.
Cochise County stands out among other counties for a variety of reasons, with one unfortunate distinction being the prevalence of rabies among the local wildlife.
It was a Colorado State University study on rabies in the four corner states that found Cochise’s climate, elevation, rainfall, and other factors that made the region so favorable for the disease, McQuaide said.
“When they did a study among all four of these states, guess what the number one county was the prime location for rabies to exist? Beautiful Cochise,” McQuaide said. “The only county that battles us for that title is Santa Cruz, right next door.”
Skunks, foxes, and bats are the animals that primarily carry the disease in Cochise County.
So far, seven skunks, two foxes, and one cat have tested positive in the county for 2019, he said.
So what can people do to guard themselves and their pets against the disease? Number one, vaccinate your animals — livestock as well as pets.
If your pet gets into a tussle with a wild animal, many people’s first instinct is to wash it, McQuaide said. Resist the temptation: this action can pass infected saliva onto you, he cautioned.
If you are out hiking and see an animal staggering or acting strangely, slowly back away until you are out of its sight, McQuaide advised. Bear spray can also be effective in discouraging an attacking animal.
Want to learn more about staying safe and healthy this summer?
If you missed McQuaide’s talk, never fear: Thrive will offer several classes and talks focusing on skills, prevention, and safety regarding the outdoors this spring and summer, said coordinator Ericka Sullins.
Among them are a Pulsepoint and CPR class from Sierra Vista Fire and Medical on, May 23, and a class on hydration from CVMC medical professionals on May 30.
“(Dietician Anna Keefe) is going to have samples of different things,” said Sullins. “She’s going to try to encourage people to stay hydrated — because there are people, like me, who hate water! So she’s going to talk about different ways to stay hydrated besides just water.”
For more information about lectures and classes at Thrive, most which are either free or have low cost, visit canyonvistamedicalcenter.com/community/wellness-depot/.