DECATUR – With the whine of summer's first mosquito comes warnings from public health officials.
West Nile encephalitis, an infection of the brain transmitted by an infected mosquito, killed two men in Central Illinois in 2013.
Don Cavi is director of environmental health with the Logan County Department of Public Health, where they have started collecting dead birds and trapping mosquitoes to test for and track the virus. The start of mosquito season varies, but Illinois may have benefited this year from a lingering winter.
“We kind of gauge the weather, it's been very cool well into the month of May,” Cavi said.
In 2013, 117 people contracted the virus and 11 died, including two elderly men from Logan and Macon counties, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The virus was found in 76 counties.
However, Cavi said concern over the virus is consistent every year because there is no way of knowing how widespread it will be.
“All the sudden you may have one … it's very hard to predict, so you can only plan for the worst,” Cavi said.
Reported cases of the virus pick up later in the summer because water sources dry up and warm, stagnant pools – where mosquitoes like to breed – increase.
“We find as the days get hotter and the weather gets drier, West Nile virus activity tends to get busier as the summer progresses,” Cavi said.
Cavi said people should take precaution whenever they're outside.
Wear shoes, socks, long pants and long-sleeved shirts in light colors. Avoid being outdoors during mosquitoes' active hours between dusk and dawn. Ensure door and window screens are fit tightly and free of tears. Eliminate sources of standing water such as flower pots, clogged gutters, old tires, wading pools and other receptacles.
Apply insect repellant that includes DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon or eucalyptus by label instructions.
Symptoms of the virus include high fever, confusion, muscle weakness or severe headaches.
For more information about West Nile Virus, visit www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/wnv.htm.