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Our View: West Nile virus lies low

Published: Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

West Nile virus might be lying low in Illinois this summer, but that doesn’t mean people should let their guard down.

It’s true that, as of Wednesday, no human cases had been reported, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

But 27 Illinois counties had detected the virus in their bird or mosquito populations, including Kane and Lake counties. McHenry County has had zero confirmed cases.

Mosquitoes that bite infected birds can transmit West Nile to humans, so the trick is to prevent that from happening.

Experts advise people to empty water from outdoor receptacles to eliminate mosquito breeding areas around the house and yard.

It’s a good idea to check screens in doors and windows for holes and fix any that you find so the pesky bugs can’t get inside.

People should avoid going outdoors during active mosquito times at dawn and dusk. Using an effective mosquito repellent is advised, along with clothing that covers arms and legs.

An additional way to be proactive is to be on the lookout for dead birds. If you see one, report it to your local health department, so officials can decide whether to test it.

Along with crows, birds that can become infected and die are robins, blue jays, grackles, starlings, house finches, cardinals, house sparrows and mourning doves.

When West Nile first burst onto the scene in the early 2000s, Illinois was hit hard. In 2002, 553 cases were confirmed in Illinois, and 67 people died.

Compare that to five years ago, when no one died from West Nile, and only five cases were reported statewide.

But in 2010, four people died out of 61 human cases, and in 2011, three died out of 34 cases.

Then in 2012, 12 people died out of 290 cases, and in 2013, 11 people died out of 117 cases.

The state health department has done its part to fight the virus by awarding West Nile prevention grants totaling almost $3 million to 92 certified local health departments to enhance prevention programs, provide information to the public, and investigate human cases.

Hot weather, which we haven’t had that much of, is a friend of West Nile, as it promotes rapid mosquito reproduction, so be aware of that during the rest of the summer.

Experts report that, in the general population, of all people bitten by mosquitoes with West Nile, 20 percent will develop symptoms, but 80 percent won’t.

Severe cases can lead to encephalitis and meningitis, which are life-threatening.

For peace of mind and the sake of your health, do what you can to avoid exposure.

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