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Hynes Leads Team in Fight Against West Nile Virus
State and local officials to join together in prevention effort

Thursday, June 19, 2003
Special to

(Chicago) -- State Comptroller Dan Hynes, in a team effort with health and government officials, today announced the kickoff of a public service campaign to combat the West Nile virus at nearly 2,000 cemeteries across the state.

Government officials participating in the campaign include: Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-9th); State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-9th); State Sen. Susan Garrett (D-29th); State Sen. Ed Maloney (D-18th); State Rep. Karen May (D-58th); State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-57th); State Rep. Beth Coulsen (R-17th); State Rep. Julie Hamos (D-18th); State Rep. Kevin Joyce (D-35th); Morton Grove Mayor Dan Scanlon; Skokie Mayor George VanDusen; and Cook County Board Commissioner Larry Suffredin. Organizations participating as well include: Catholic Cemetery Association, Cook County Health Department, Lake County Health Department, Illinois Cemetery and Funeral Home Association, the Illinois Department of Public Health, and Shalom Memorial Park.

In Illinois, the West Nile virus was first identified in September 2001 when laboratory tests confirmed its presence in two dead crows found in the Chicago metropolitan area, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. In 2002, birds, mosquitoes and horses in 100 of the state's 102 counties tested positive for West Nile virus and the first human cases and deaths from the West Nile virus illness in Illinois were reported in August 2002. By the end of the year, the state lead the nation with more than 800 human cases and 64 deaths, the IDPH has reported.

"Health surveys indicate that at least 10 percent of Illinoisans who have contracted West Nile had recently visited a cemetery, where conditions for mosquito breeding are favorable," said Hynes, whose office regulates the state's private cemeteries. "The purpose of this campaign is to promote public awareness of the problem and eliminate mosquito breeding grounds in cemeteries wherever possible."

Hynes said the group is asking families who have loved ones buried in cemeteries and the cemeteries themselves to practice the following guidelines:

  • Visitors should stay off the grounds around dusk and dawn, even if rules and regulations do not require so.

  • Visitors should refrain from placing flowers in vases until fall.

  • Employees should empty all vases to remove stagnant water.

  • Employees and visitors should stay away from fountains or pool areas.

  • Employees and visitors should always wear some type of mosquito repellent.

  • Employees should report any dead birds to their local Department of Public Health, for testing of the West Nile virus, which may help the IDPH track the virus from county-to-county.

  • Grounds personnel should recheck their work area for old tires, cans, or any type of containers that hold water as potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and rid those areas of those items.

Hynes said his office will inform cemeteries of suggested guidelines for minimizing breeding of mosquitoes. In conjunction with health officials, his office will also produce consumer brochures for people visiting cemeteries.

"We deeply respect the tradition of families who honor the memories of loved ones by visiting grave sites and bringing floral arrangements," said Hynes. "We simply ask that during these critical months when West Nile is most likely to spread, that cemetery visitors take extra precautions to eliminate conditions that breed mosquitoes and to protect themselves from the virus.

"We understand that some visitors may be disappointed that floral arrangements are discouraged at their cemeteries, but these measures are necessary to protect the public health."

The IDPH maintains a sophisticated disease surveillance system to monitor animals and insects that can potentially carry the virus: dead crows and blue jays, mosquitoes and horses. Mosquitoes can either carry the virus or get it by feeding on infected birds. The surveillance system also includes infectious disease physicians, hospital laboratory directors and infection control practitioners, local health departments and staff from IDPH's laboratory, environmental health and infectious diseases divisions, who test for and report suspect or confirmed cases of various diseases that can be caused by mosquito-borne viruses.

Mild cases of West Nile infections may cause a slight fever or headache. More severe infections are marked by a rapid onset of a high fever with head and body aches, disorientation, tremors, and convulsions and, in the most severe cases, paralysis or death. Usually symptoms occur from three to 14 days after the bite of an infected mosquito. Persons at the highest risk for serious illness are those 50 years of age or older.

The best way to prevent West Nile encephalitis and other mosquito-borne illnesses is to reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home and neighborhood and to take personal precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

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