With the warm weather having finally arrived for good, it will soon be time for everything that comes with it. That goes for fresh new leaves on the trees; a new generation of houseflies; and of course, mosquitoes.
At the Will County Health Department Environmental Division, there are two diseases connected to mosquitoes on everyone’s mind. They both can be dangerous, but different in many ways.
As always, there is the situation with West Nile Virus, which is transported to a human being after a Culex mosquito bites a West Nile infected bird and then bites the person. Last year, there were nine reported human cases of West Nile Virus in Wil County, after there were none reported in 2015.
The Environmental Health Department’s Katie Nelson, however, cautions that the actual number of infected persons could have been much higher. Quite often a person with West Nile will not know they have it because they have simple flu symptoms such as a fever or nausea.
But more serious outcomes often happen with the elderly, the very young, or others who are more susceptible to illness. West Nile is actually a neurological disease, and can enter the brain and become West Nile Encephalitis. This is when other symptoms such as swollen lymph glands, dizziness and eye soreness, or severe rash on the stomach or back can appear.
It is because of the seriousness of the disease that the Will County Health Department has 14 mosquito traps designed specifically for West Nile testing. Kyle Moy, who runs the West Nile program for the Environmental Division, says the captured mosquitos are brought back to the health department lab, frozen overnight, and then tested for West Nile Virus the next day. These traps are placed all around the county in various areas from forest preserve sites to churches.
“It’s a matter of baiting the female mosquito as she prepares to lay her eggs above stagnant water,” Moy explained. “The mosquitos are sucked up into a net placed just up above.”
But no matter how much activity is reported in the Will County area, certain precautions must be taken every year. First and foremost, there is the need to get rid of stagnant water around your home. This could be in gutters, flowerpots, rain barrels, and child wading pools. And swimming pools should be covered when not in use.
“A hard rain might cause an influx of nuisance waterborne mosquitoes at first,” Nelson explained. “But if you follow that up with a very hot and dry period, that’s when Culex mosquito populations will increase.”
The Health Department continues to recommend long sleeves and long pants when outdoors during the peak mosquito periods between dusk and dawn. Mosquito repellent with DEET is recommended as well.
The other mosquito borne illness, heavily in the news on an international basis for the last couple of years, is Zika Virus. Unlike West Nile, Zika can be sexually transmitted from one human being to another. The type of mosquito that often carries the Zika Virus and can spread it from one person to another, the A.aegypti, is rarely found in the Midwest. But it is very common in Texas, Florida, the Carribean, Mexico, the Virgin Islands, and South America.
For these reasons, women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant are strongly cautioned about traveling into these regions. Lisa Carlson of the Will County Health Department’s Family Services Division recommends that prospective travelers visit www.cdc.gov/Zika for key information, which includes a world map showing the latest Zika trouble spots.
In addition, for the latest information on both West Nile Virus or Zika Virus, you can also visit the Illinois Department of Public Health at http://www.idph.illinois.gov/topics-services/diseases-and-conditions/west-nile-virus.