WCHD: West Nile Virus season is almost here

Staff Writer
Woodford Times

The Woodford County Health Department reminds the public that mosquito season is quickly approaching. 

West Nile Virus arrived in Illinois at the end of the summer of 2001. Over the past couple of years, the West Nile encephalitis caused by the West Nile Virus has emerged as the greatest mosquito-related concern. In 2010, there were 61 human cases and four human deaths in Illinois. Although the highest risk populations include people over 50 and individuals with weakened immune systems, all residents are still at risk in areas where the virus is found. Mosquito-borne WNV is likely to remain a threat to Illinois for the foreseeable future.

WNV is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito that has picked up the virus by feeding on an infected bird. Crows, blue jays and robins are key indicator species for the appearance of WNV in an area. Birds will be accepted for testing from May 1 through Oct. 15. 

All perching birds such as the crow, blue jay, grackle, starling, robin, cardinal, catbird, mockingbird, and many species of sparrows, finches, flycatchers, swallows, warblers and wrens will be accepted for testing. Hawks and owls can also be tested. 

No waterfowl, larger birds such as vultures, or endangered birds including the bald eagle will be tested. 

The Woodford County Health Department will once again be submitting up to 10 total birds to a lab for testing of WNV. Citizens who observe sick/dying “eligible” birds between May 1 and Oct. 15 are urged to report this to their local health department. Birds submitted for testing must be “eligible” birds with no obvious cause of death, such as birds killed by a gunshot or birds found crushed on a roadway that are most likely killed by motor vehicles. 

Birds dying from WNV are usually found singly, scattered over a wide area. In contrast birds that die from other causes (storm mortality, food poisoning, toxicants) often die in groups or clusters in a small area.

To reduce the risk of being bitten by mosquitoes, the Illinois Department of Public Health recommends the following precautions:

• Minimize time spent outdoors when mosquitoes are most active. When outdoors between dusk and dawn, wear shoes and socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Loose-fitting, light-colored clothing works best.

•Consider the use of mosquito repellent when outdoors and always follow the directions on the label.

For adults, generally repellents with about 25-35 percent DEET work best. Use of lower concentrations is recommended for children. Do not use products containing DEET on infants. Picaridin is another insect repellent that works well.

• Check residential screens, including porches and patios, for tears and other openings.

• At least once per week, empty standing water from containers on the property in areas such as bird baths, old tires, flower pots, etc. Clean clogged roof gutters, wading pools, wheelbarrows, boats and other objects capable of holding water. Keep ditch drains clear of debris and fill in low areas on your property to eliminate standing water.

• Horse owners also should take precautions to minimize exposure of their animals to mosquitoes. A vaccine to protect horses from West Nile Virus is available. While susceptible to the virus, horses are not known to transmit the disease to other horses or humans. For more information regarding West Nile Virus and horses, horse owners can contact their veterinarian.

If anyone is interested in obtaining information regarding the West Nile Virus, they can visit the WCHD website at  www.woodfordhealth.org or contact Eric Lane at 467-3064.