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Protect yourself, West Nile virus found Cook County

SEPT. 5, 2013 - The first human case of West Nile virus this year recently was confirmed in Cook County. The Illinois Department of Public Health says that a suburban man became ill late last month with the virus.  He was hospitalized but was later released and is recovering.

This case put a spotlight on a potentially very serious disease that is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes.  Experts are urging local residents educate themselves on the West Nile virus, its risks, its symptoms and what can be done to prevent illness.

“The great majority of people infected with the West Nile virus will have minor symptoms such as a fever or headache, or they may experience no symptoms at all,” said James Richardson, MD, an emergency department physician at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill..  “But, around 1 percent of people who are infected will develop a serious, sometimes fatal, inflammation of the brain or spinal column.” 

According to Dr. Richardson, there are no vaccines or specific antiviral treatments for infection of the West Nile Virus.  For those who are suffering from lesser symptoms, he says that no special tests or procedures are recommended, and pain relievers can be used to reduce fever and minor pain.  

Symptoms of more serious neurologic illness involving the brain or nervous system include neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures or even paralysis.  People with certain medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease are also at greater risk for serious illness. 

Dr. Richardson urges anyone who believes they may be suffering from symptoms of West Nile disease to consult their physician.

The most effective way to avoid West Nile virus disease, says Dr. Richardson, is to prevent mosquito bites.  He cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations as the place to start prevention efforts. 

  • Use insect repellents when you go outdoors. Repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide longer-lasting protection. 
  • Wear long sleeves and pants from dusk through dawn when many mosquitoes are most active.
  • Install or repair screens on windows and doors. If you have it, use your air conditioning.
  • Help reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home. Empty standing water from containers such as flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet water dishes, discarded tires, and birdbaths.
  • Report dead birds to local authorities. Dead birds may be a sign that West Nile virus is circulating between birds and the mosquitoes in an area. By reporting dead birds to state and local health departments, you can play an important role in monitoring West Nile virus. State and local agencies have different policies for collecting and testing birds, so check with your state health department to find information about reporting dead birds in your area.

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