The U.S. Centers for Disease Control are reporting the largest outbreak of West Nile virus since the disease appeared in this country in 1999 — but that doesn’t mean Will County residents should panic, according to local health officials.
To date, there have been no human cases of West Nile in Will County this year, said Vic Reato, spokesman for the Will County Health Department. Last year, there were 34 cases of the illness statewide.
“We’ve had lots of birds and mosquitoes,” Reato said, noting that the number of WNV-positive mosquitoes found in Will County has doubled compared to last year. “I think at some point it would not be unreasonable to assume that we could have some human cases.”
With five human cases so far this summer, DuPage County reported the state’s first West Nile-related death after Lombard Village President Bill Mueller died of complications from the disease. Mueller, who had been battling cancer for more than four years, was hospitalized on Aug. 5 and died two weeks later.
Cook County has reported 15 cases of the illness, Reato said.
Nationwide, the CDC is reporting 1,118 cases and 42 deaths related to West Nile virus.
"We're in the midst of one of the largest West Nile outbreaks ever seen in the United States," said Dr. Lyle Petersen, a CDC official told The Huffington Post.
So how concerned should Will County residents be?
“That’s a tough one to call,” Reato said. “To put it in perspective, four out of five people who have West Nile virus have no significant symptoms or mild, flu-like symptoms.
“For people with compromised immunity, say people over the age of 50, it can be a significant problem.”
Reato said education and prevention are the best weapons against West Nile, since there is no vaccine or medication to treat the disease.
“In the summertime, it’s tough to tell people they need to wear long sleeves, but that’s the reality of it,” he said. “Definitely, people should be aware. Should they curtail their outdoor activities? Not really.”
The best way to prevent West Nile is to avoid mosquito bites, Reato said. Some tips for steering clear of the insects:
- Use insect repellents when you go outdoors.
- Wear long sleeves and pants during dawn and dusk.
- Install or repair screens on windows and doors. Use air conditioning, if you have it.
- Empty standing water from items outside your home such as flowerpots, buckets and kiddie pools.