Five times more mosquitoes test positive in Illinois than last year
BY DAVE MCKINNEY Sun-Times Media August 22, 2012 4:32PM
| Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 24, 2012 7:50AM
SPRINGFIELD — Five times the number of mosquitoes tested in Illinois carry the West Nile Virus this year compared to 2011, but there so far hasn’t been a corresponding spike in people getting sick from the illness.
That word Wednesday from the Illinois Department of Public Health came on the same day as U.S. health officials warned that the country is on pace for “one of the largest” outbreaks since the virus first appeared in the United States 13 years ago.
Last year at this time, 5 percent of mosquito samples tested by the state were positive for West Nile Virus; this year, the total amounts to 25 percent, said Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health.
So far this year, 27 Illinoisans have contracted West Nile Virus, and one has died — Lombard Village President William J. “Bill” Mueller, 76, who succumbed to the virus last Saturday. Also among those who have fallen ill from the disease is Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton, who remained hospitalized this week.
“We’re seeing a higher increase of infection rate [in mosquitoes], which can translate into more human cases,” she said. “The hot, dry weather is typically the conditions where we see more West Nile Virus activity.
“Will that translate to human cases? That’s typically what we do see. It’s hard to predict. But across the country, the Centers for Disease Control is saying we’re seeing three times the numbers for mid-August. We’re encouraging people to be vigilant because we are seeing cases,” she said.
So far, 1,118 illnesses have been reported nationwide, about half of them in Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In an average year, fewer than 300 cases are reported by mid-August. There have also been 41 deaths this year.
They think the mild winter, early spring and very hot summer have fostered breeding of mosquitoes that pick up the virus from birds they bite and then spread it to people.
West Nile virus was first reported in the U.S. in 1999 in New York, and gradually spread across the country over the years. It peaked in 2002 and 2003, when severe illnesses reached nearly 3,000 and deaths surpassed 260. Last year was mild with fewer than 700 cases.
Only about one in five infected people get sick. One in 150 infected people will develop severe symptoms including neck stiffness, disorientation, coma and paralysis.
Last year at this time in Illinois, 15 counties posted positive results for the virus in mosquito testing. Now, 38 counties have had positive test results, Arnold said.
The contraction rate is running higher this year than last, when 34 Illinoisans were confirmed during the entire year to have gotten the virus. Three died in 2011.
The worst year on record for West Nile Virus in Illinois came in 2002, when 884 cases were reported, and 67 people died after contracting the mosquito-borne illness, state records show.
Contributing: Associated Press