Illinois Spends $2.3 Million To Fight West Nile Virus

Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich recently announced the state has awarded grants to local health departments totaling $2.3 million as part of this year's efforts to detect and control mosquitoes that carry the West Nile virus or other mosquito-borne diseases.

"It's the time of year to get outside - whether to work in the yard, exercise or simply enjoy the natural wonders Illinois has to offer," the Governor said. "But it's also a time for mosquitoes. Two years ago Illinois experienced the worst outbreak of West Nile disease in the nation and, although last year the numbers of cases declined, it is not a time for us to let our guard down."

Blagojevich said about $2 million comes from a special 50 cent fee increase on new tires enacted last year to create an public health emergency fund to finance human, mosquito, bird and horse surveillance for mosquito-borne diseases. The remaining $341,000 is from federal grants received by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Nearly $1 million has been earmarked for 60 local health departments in areas of the state that last year experienced high levels of West Nile virus activity for prevention and control of mosquito-borne diseases, case investigations and public information. The other $1.3 million was awarded to 47 local health departments to fund two-years of vector surveillance, including the collection and testing of dead birds and mosquitoes.

Illinois' 2004 surveillance for West Nile virus, which began May 1, calls for laboratory tests on mosquitoes, dead crows and blue jays, and the testing of sick horses and humans with West Nile-like disease symptoms. Citizens who find sick or dying crows and blue jays should contact their local health department, which will determine if the bird is to be submitted for testing.

While there is no way to predict what the state may experience in terms of human cases of West Nile disease or other mosquito-borne diseases, Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said his department, along with other state agencies and local health department will aggressively monitor for the diseases.

"Based on what we have seen the past two years, it is logical to expect there will be human cases of West Nile disease in Illinois," Dr. Whitaker said. "We are preparing as if we will see the same high level of activity as in 2002, but hoping our actual experience is similar or less than last year."

In 2002, Illinois reported 884 cases of West Nile disease and 66 deaths, both of which were the highest totals in the nation. Last year there were nearly 10,000 cases of West Nile disease and 262 deaths in 45 states, but just 54 cases and one death in Illinois. So far in 2004, West Nile virus activity has been reported among birds or mosquitoes in eight states - Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas. No human cases have been confirmed.

When transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito, West Nile virus can cause a mild reactions that include fever, headache and body aches, or be more severe and be marked by headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, convulsions, muscle weakness, paralysis and, rarely, death. Those at highest risk of severe disease are persons 50 years of age or older and those whose immune systems are weakened by illness or medical treatment.

As the outdoor season begins in earnest, Dr. Whitaker reminded Illinoisans they can reduce their risk of West Nile disease and other mosquito-borne diseases by taking these precautions:

  • Avoid being outdoors when mosquitoes are most active, especially between dusk and dawn.
  • When outdoors, wear shoes and socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, and apply insect repellent that includes DEET according to label instructions. Consult a physician before using repellents on young children.
  • Make sure doors and windows have tight-fitting screens. Repair or replace screens that have tears or other openings.
  • Eliminate all sources of standing water that can support mosquito breeding, including water in bird baths, ponds, flowerpots, wading pools, old tires and any other receptacles.

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