By Natalie Conrad
Herald Staff Writer
West Nile virus has not hit local counties yet, but the epidemic is growing across Iowa and Illinois and across the country.
The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and Iowa Department of Public Health reminded Iowans that mosquitoes remain active until hard freeze occurs and can carry West Nile virus in a press release on Friday.
Surveillance has shown a larger number of horses have been infected with West Nile virus this year, with more than 20 confirmed cases. Last year Iowa only had one confirmed cases in horses.
Nineteen Iowans in 16 counties have been diagnosed with West Nile virus in 2012. No West Nile virus-related deaths have been reported this year. Last year, there were nine human cases with two deaths. Currently there are no reported cases in Jackson or Clinton counties, but there were five reported cases in sentinel chickens in nearby Scott County.
Humans cannot “catch” West Nile from an animal, but an increase in animal cases indicates higher activity among mosquitoes carrying the virus, according to IDPH.
“The number of Iowans infected with West Nile virus tends to increase in September and sometimes into October if the weather stays nice,” IDPH Medical Director, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, said. “Until the state’s first hard frost, whether it’s for work or play, being outside means there’s a risk for West Nile virus.”
Clinton County has remained free of the disease for the last three years, but with the Mississippi River nearby has a significant risk. Mosquitos thrive in wet and hot conditions.
“Even though we’ve had a dry summer, that doesn’t mean we aren’t at risk,” Clinton County Public Health Official Michelle Cullen said. “There are still plenty of mosquitoes out. Everyone should take extra precautions against mosquito bites.”
The state of Illinois had 138 human cases and five deaths so far this year. A significant amount of the cases, 81, were reported in Cook County, where Chicago is located. Carroll and Whiteside counties currently have no reported cases.
People in both states are encouraged to take the following steps to reduce the risk of exposure to West Nile virus:
• Use insect repellent with DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535. Always read the repellent label and consult with a health care provider if you have questions when using these types of products for children.
• Avoid outdoor activities at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
• Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, shoes, and socks outdoors whenever possible.
• Eliminate standing water around the home because that is where mosquitoes lay eggs. Empty water from buckets, cans, pool covers and pet water dishes. Change water in bird baths every three to four days.
West Nile virus is endemic in Iowa and activity usually peaks in late summer and early fall. Local partners collect mosquitoes and maintain sentinel chicken flocks across the state. Iowa State University Medical Entomology monitors the levels of Culex pipiens and Culex tarsalis mosquitoes (the primary vectors of WNV) statewide and the State Hygienic Laboratory (SHL) tests the mosquitoes to determine whether they are infected with West Nile Virus or other arboviruses. SHL also tests the blood drawn from sentinel chickens weekly to determine whether they have been infected with West Nile virus or other arboviruses.
For more information on the virus visit the Iowa Department of Public Health website www.idph.state.ia.us or the Illinois Department of Public Health at www.idph.state.il.us.