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West Nile virus back in Skokie

Thursday, June 07, 2007
Pioneer Press

State health officials urge residents to take mosquito-repellant precautions after the West Nile virus was recently detected in Skokie.

Environmental Health Officer Bonnie Burnett said the Illinois Department of Public Health began testing mosquitos for the virus May 1. So far batches in three counties have tested positive, including one taken May 21 in Skokie. Mosquitos collected May 7 in DuPage County and a batch collected May 11 in Tazwell County have also tested positive, according to the state health department.

This is the seventh year the state has been hit with the virus, which first surfaced in 2002.

Burnett said health officials cannot predict how extensive the West Nile problem will be this year. Human cases usually do no turn up until at least July.

"They never know. If the spring is wet and the summer is hot and dry it tends to increase the amount of cases," she said.

"We did have a very wet spring and it was warmer than normal." she added. "But nobody knows."

No human or animal cases of West Nile-related diseases have been reported yet this year, according to the state.

In 2006 there were 215 human cases statewide with 10 deaths. That figure included 57 in suburban Cook County and another 29 in the City of Chicago.

In 2005 there were 252 human cases statewide with 12 of those fatal. In Cook County there were 135 human cases reported, 99 of those in the suburbs.

The best thing residents can do to protect themselves, Burnett said, is use an insect repellent.

Traditionally DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) has been recommended to prevent mosquito bites.

In 2005 two other mosquito repellents were approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Those are Picaridin, found in Cutter Advanced, and oil of lemon eucalyptus, a plant-based repellent.

Burnett said residents should use the repellents, particularly if they go out near dawn and dusk when mosquitos are most active. In addition, they should eliminate standing water, check screens on their homes for tears and wear long sleeves when they out.

"It's the single most important thing you can do," Burnett said.

State health officials will be testing dead birds again this year for the virus and also tracking dead birds, Burnett said.

Birds being tested include crows, blue jays, robins and other perching birds. In addition sick horses and humans with West Nile like symptoms will be tested.

Residents who find a sick or dying bird should report that to either the Cook County Health Department on its West Nile hotline, (708) 492-2650, or to Burnett at (847) 470-5221.

For testing, Burnett said birds must have been dead for less than 24 hours and not have any damage or signs of decomposition. However, she said, even those that do not qualify for testing are being tracked this summer.

"We also track the dead birds that aren't tested," she said.

About one in 150 people infected with the West Nile virus will develop severe illness.

The symptoms can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent.

Up to 20 percent of the people who become infected will display symptoms which can include fever, headache, and body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. Symptoms can last for as short as a few days, though even healthy people have been sick for several weeks.

Approximately 80 percent of people, about four out of five, who are infected will not show any symptoms at all, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The worst year so far for human infections came in 2002 when Illinois led the nation with 884 cases and 66 deaths. That was the year that former mayor Dan Scanlon became ill with West Nile encephalitis and his wife died from a West Nile-related illness.

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