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Published on June 18, 2024
Illinois Health Officials Warn of Early West Nile Virus Detection in 13 Counties, Urge Public to 'Fight the Bite'Source: American Mosquito Control Association

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDHP) has alerted residents about the early arrival of the West Nile virus (WNV) in 13 counties across the state. This notification comes at a time when public health officials nationally are emphasizing the need to 'Fight the Bite' during National Mosquito Control Awareness Week, which spans from June 16-22. Illinoisans are being particularly urged to proactively reduce exposure after findings of the virus in both mosquitos and birds.

The incidence of WNV-infected mosquitos advanced to show up sooner than expected, following a milder winter and spring. IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra took the opportunity to stress the importance of preventative measures, "With the virus appearing earlier this year following a milder winter and spring, I urge everyone to fight the bite in their communities. Please reduce exposures, wear insect repellent while outdoors, and report any standing water around your community where mosquitoes can breed," according to an announcement from the IDPH.

To date, the state has reported 11 mosquito pools and 10 birds testing positive for the virus. Counties on the list include Champaign, Cook, Douglas, Fulton, Kane, Hancock, LaSalle, Morgan, Washington, Whiteside, Williamson, Winnebago, and Woodford. While no human cases have been reported this year, there were 119 human cases in 2023, which starkly contrasts with 34 cases in 2022. Deaths related to West Nile virus in 2023 were six, down one from the previous year.

Supporting local bodies, the IDPH has allocated a hefty $2.8 million in state funding to 97 local health departments for conducting meticulous vector surveillance and control tasks. This extensive funding is utilized to facilitate the purchase and use of larvicide and to engage in public education on WNV prevention. Part of this push includes local health departments collecting mosquitoes for testing, and surveying dead birds, a critical component of monitoring efforts. "People who see a sick or dead crow, blue jay, robin or other perching bird should contact their local county or city health department, which will determine if the bird will be picked up for testing," the IDPH mentioned in their recent update.

WNV, which is transmitted by Culex mosquitoes after they feed on infected birds, can range from asymptomatic infections to severe illness. While most infected individuals will not show any symptoms, the virus can, in rare cases, progress to cause severe conditions like meningitis, and encephalitis, or even result in fatalities. Health officials are particularly concerned about individuals over 60 and those with compromised immune systems.

As part of the preventive strategy against West Nile virus, IDPH advises practicing the three "R's": reduce, repel, and report. Reduction of breeding sites involves eliminating standing water in containers such as bird baths and flowerpots, repairing screens on doors and windows, and keeping them closed to prevent mosquitoes from entering homes. To repel, the recommendation is to wear protective clothing and apply EPA-registered insect repellent when outdoors. Reporting encompasses alerting local health authorities about locations of stagnant water where mosquitos are likely to breed.

Further details on the West Nile virus and the state's ongoing response can be found on the IDPH website.