It’s not too early to begin thinking about protecting yourself from West Nile virus. The Centers for Disease Control said this week that 286 people died of West Nile virus in the nation last year, the highest number since the disease was first detected in 1999. The CDC says 2012 also had the second highest number of reported “neuroinvasive” cases - 2,873 in all. Neuroinvasive cases can sometimes lead to meningitis and other brain-related illnesses.
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In Illinois there were 290 reported cases of West Nile in 2012, including 12 deaths. “This was the highest number of cases we’ve seen in Illinois since 2002, which we had the most cases in the entire country at 884 and that included 67 deaths,” said Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health. Of those 290 cases, 184 were neuroinvasive.
While flood water mosquitoes may be in abundance because of April and early May floods, they aren’t a carrier of West Nile. “They’re going to be in swarms, they’re going to be a little bit bigger in size, so you’re definitely going to notice them,” Arnold said. “They’re pretty aggressive biters but typically they don’t carry any type of disease. They don’t carry West Nile virus.” Arnold says it takes hot, dry summers for mosquitoes that carry West Nile to flourish.
The best way to protect from West Nile and other possible illness is to avoid mosquito bites.
Use insect repellents when you go outdoors. Look for repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and para-menthane-diol (PMD).
Wear long sleeves and pants at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
Repair or install screens on doors and windows.
Empty sources of standing water such as flowerpots, gutters, buckets and kiddie pools. Change birdbaths weekly.
Symptoms of West Nile virus include fever, headache, body aches, skin rash and swollen glands.