Chicago’s West Nile Virus Outbreak

Photo: Flickr

2018 has been filled with reports of West Nile Virus. The West Nile Virus is a national concern, affecting all 48 continental states. Experts say with the current changes in the climate infected mosquito population is due to increase in the coming years.  

With mosquito season over and having all of the statistics collected. The amount of cases being reported in Illinois has increased from 90 reports in 2017 to 140 reports this year. This is a 64 percent increase in human cases in Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Health.

The Chicago Health Department monitors mosquitoes around the city every year. During the summer season, traps are placed throughout the Chicago area and mosquitoes are then tested for West Niles Virus.

The Health Department does this to see where infected mosquitos carrying West Nile Virus are existent and breeding. They do this to try to inform and prevent humans from getting infected by the West Nile Virus, as well as try to stop the disease from spreading. If the tests show a high level of West Nile activity then the health department will take further steps to protect and avoid humans getting infected. In 2017, 27,968 mosquitoes were trapped versus in 2018 with a high of 35,347 mosquitoes, an increase of 7,379.

West Nile Virus Throughout the Years

The Illinois Department of Public Health’s 2018 West Niles Virus report showed 17,367 mosquitoes with this disease were found, 3,617 more than in 2017.

Jim Dunbar, owner of Mosquito Joe of Chicago North, has been about 3 ½ years in the business. Mosquito Joe provides services to help with mosquito control. He has a theory on the cause of the outbreak.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“If you recall in April we had snow late, then plenty of rain,” he said. “Once it did warm, the heat came quickly and hot. This jump started the process and amount of mosquitoes that were out there.”

There were multiple areas around Chicago that received positive results on West Niles but it was the 5,263 mosquitoes around O’Hare airport that really stood out from all. It makes up 30 percent of the entire pool of mosquitoes that were tested positive. The airport received a high of 8.2 inches of rainfall for May, followed by hot temperatures .This is the perfect combination to speed up the mosquito population, experts say, which could have been a reason behind the high results.

West Nile can be found in areas where we least expect it, therefore it’s important to be aware of this virus. According to the Cook County health department, four out of five people with the virus do not realize that they have it because they show no symptoms.

While others will start to show signs of being ill after 3 to 15 days of being bitten by a mosquito. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache with high fever and a stick neck being more severe. These warnings are leaving many parents concerned. When mosquito spray is not protecting their children they turn to services such as Dunbar’s.

John O’Neill, a parent of five children in Oak Forest, Illinois, expressed concerns over the summer and the West Nile threat..

“With all the warnings on the television I decided to get the treatment done to my lawn,” he said. “I live in a forested area with five young children, if I can lower the risk of them catching West Nile virus, I’m going to do all I can. It is a little peace of mind knowing I have two lines of defense, mosquito spray and the mosquito treatment.”

While O’Hare overall received a higher amount of mosquitoes with the West Niles virus, Cook County Department of Health received fewer calls regarding nuisance mosquitoes.

Kimberley Conrad Junius, health communication specialist with the Cook County Department of Public Health, said that “West Nile virus is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Culex mosquito. Mosquitoes that spread WNV most often bite between dawn and dusk, but they can bite any time of day.”

She listed three ways to prevent mosquito bites and the diseases they carry: the 3 R’s.

“We treat for mosquitoes, April through October,” Dunbar said. “ The season for treating them ends when we reach an average temperature below 50 degrees for a week,” said Dunbar.

Mosquito season may be over now but it’s always good to be prepared and have knowledge of the things that can be done to lower the chances of coming into contact with the virus.

“Many people have mosquito eggs that have been or will be there for 10-15 years,” added Dunbar. “We may think we are in the clear but these eggs are just waiting for the right environment to hatch.”

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