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Mosquitoes and West Nile Virus

Jun 29, 2017 (updated on Jun 29, 2017)

Warm temperatures and rainy days that produce standing water help create the perfect conditions in Peoria County for breeding mosquitoes that can carry the disease-causing West Nile virus (WNV). 

Several types of mosquitoes can be responsible for different diseases. In Illinois, some mosquitoes that appear after heavy rains can be a nuisance, but generally don’t carry WNV that can cause illness. Most of the mosquitoes that carry Zika virus are not native to Illinois, so the risk of Illinois mosquitoes transmitting Zika is very low. Warmer weather, combined with standing waters from heavy rains, however, do create the ideal breeding conditions for the Culex or common house mosquito. The Culex mosquitoes are native in Illinois, and they can carry and transmit WNV. 

Wil Hayes, Director of Environmental Health at Peoria City/County Health Department, explains an environmental approach to the control of disease-carrying mosquitoes, "A good adult mosquito surveillance program can be the cornerstone of mosquito management and control. Surveillance involves trapping and counting mosquitoes, identifying the species, and performing disease testing on the mosquitoes. At Peoria City/County Health Department, we are taking a proactive approach to mosquito management by performing weekly adult mosquito surveillance. We do this by setting mosquito traps in eight (8) strategic rural and urban locations throughout Peoria County. The traps, called gravid traps, are used to collect mosquitoes that can carry WNV. These traps are set from mid-May through mid-October. The mosquitoes collected in the traps are counted and the species are identified by our staff. These mosquitoes are then divided into “pools” or groups of fifty (50) and tested at our facility for the presence of WNV. We use the RAMP (Rapid Analyte Measurement Platform) testing system that enables us to have WNV test results within hours as opposed to other methods that can take days or weeks. This in-house testing is an invaluable tool that helps us pinpoint the peak of the WNV transmission cycle which helps us determine when and where it is appropriate to apply larvacide to control mosquitoes." 

Hayes also offers personal prevention tips, "The best way to prevent West Nile disease or any other mosquito-borne illness is for individuals to take personal precautions to reduce the number of mosquitoes around their homes and to avoid mosquito bites. Precautions include practicing the three “R’s” – reduce, repel and report." 

  • REDUCE exposure - Avoid being outdoors when mosquitoes are most active, especially between dusk and dawn. Make sure doors and windows have tight-fitting screens. Repair or replace screens that have tears or other openings. Try to keep doors and windows shut, especially at night. Eliminate all sources of standing water where mosquitoes can breed, including water in bird baths, ponds, flowerpots, wading pools, old tires and any other receptacles.  
  • REPEL - When outdoors, wear shoes and socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, and apply insect repellent that contains DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR 3535, according to label instructions. Consult a physician before using repellents on infants. 
  • REPORT - In communities where there are organized mosquito control programs, contact your municipal government to report areas of stagnant water in roadside ditches, flooded yards and similar locations that may produce mosquitoes. 

WNV can be transmitted to humans through the bite of a mosquito that has picked up the virus by feeding on an infected bird. Because dead birds can be infected with WNV, people should not handle dead birds with their bare hands. Individuals should use gloves or other protective hand covering and double wrap dead birds in plastic garbage bags prior to disposal. 

Anyone can get WNV infection; however, people over 50 years of age and those with weakened immune systems have the highest risk of developing a severe illness. Common WNV symptoms include fever, nausea, headache and muscle aches. Symptoms may last from a few days to a few weeks. Four out of five people infected with WNV will not show any symptoms, but in rare cases, severe illness including meningitis or encephalitis, or even death, can occur.

For more information on mosquitoes, West Nile virus, and other important public health issues, visit the Peoria City/County Health Department website at www.pcchd.org.

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