People always think mosquitoes when West Nile Virus is mentioned, but where do the mosquitoes get it from? The answer to that question is birds. For this reason, health departments nationwide conduct regular studies of dead birds possibly infected by the West Nile Virus. However, birds cannot give the virus to humans.
Cameron Morford is the Sanitarian and Coordinator of Public Health Emergency Preparedness with the Morgan County Health Department. As a guest on this month’s edition of the County Health Department AM Conversation on WLDS, Morford discussed the prevalence of West Nile Virus in Illinois.
Morford says the annual testing season of suspicious deceased birds has already begun.
“We start our surveillance of dead birds the First of May and it runs all the way through October 15th, so with it being a little bit warmer lately, we’re actually getting in to the start of it.”
Morford and the MCHD want everyone to know what the possible symptoms of West Nile are.
“Your minor symptoms are going to be fever, headache, body ache, and rash… and that’s only going to be your twenty percent of people who even show symptoms, so it’s kind of minor, almost flu-like symptoms there. And then when we get into the more severe stuff, that will be stiff neck, sleepiness. You could actually go into a coma, have tremors, convulsions, and maybe even lead to paralysis or severe nervous system damage. So, it can be pretty serious.”
While talking with WLDS’ Gary Scott, Morford explains what should and should not be done when you see a deceased bird that may be infected with or a carrier of the West Nile Virus.
Morford: “What we’re really looking for is kind of a bird that doesn’t really have any obvious signs of death. It just kind of looks like it really didn’t get hit by a car, didn’t get shot, wasn’t eaten on, just kind of laying there and it looks a little suspicious, like it shouldn’t have died. That’s when we start thinking West Nile, perhaps. If you see one, and it’s not overly decayed, it looks like there’s no obvious signs of death, you’re going to want to report that to the health department. We’re on 345 West State there in Jacksonville. You can give us a call, or head in and meet with me and I’ll head out and we’ll send it in for testing to IDPH at the lab.”
Gary Scott: “Should we as the general public handle the bird?”
Morford: “You shouldn’t. As soon as you see it on the ground, just give me a call or head in and talk to me and I’ll handle it from there.”
Morford goes over the Illinois West Nile Virus Prevention Protocol, referred to as the three R’s.
“The Three R’s: Reduce, Repel, and Report. When you are outside, make sure you’re covered up: long sleeves, long pants, taking care of your children, putting repellent on. The repellent’s you’re going to be using are deet, picaridin, IR3535, or eucalyptus oil. You can also treat your clothes with permethrin. DON’T EVER PUT THAT [permethrin] ON YOUR SKIN, though, like a regular repellent. You’re going to want to treat your clothes [with permethrin] before hand.
Some things you can do around your house or yard to mosquito-proof:
- Make sure any screens you have on windows or doors are in good repair.
- If you’ve got any trash cans, buckets, flower pots, tires, or anything in your backyard make sure those aren’t filling up with water.
Your culex pipiens, the breed of mosquitoes that are actually going to have the highest possibility of carrying West Nile – they like the stagnant, standing-still water to lay their eggs in.”
Since 2013, nearly 500 confirmed human cases of West Nile Virus were reported in Illinois. Eighty percent of people that contract West Nile Virus will not be effected enough to ever show any symptoms. No one has died from West Nile Virus in Illinois since 2004.