6/04/02 - Could the West Nile Virus Be Close to the Heartland?

We've been hearing about a growing new disease for the last few years, now there's information about the West Nile Virus and just how close it is to us! West Nile, which is spread by mosquitoes, was most recently found a few hundred miles from here in Edgar County, Illinois. As the mosquito flies that's not far, in fact experts say the virus is likely in every Illinois county.

Kevin Gillespie with the Franklin County Health Department says, "It would not surprise me if its found at some point in Southern Illinois." Mosquitoes can be found everywhere this time of year, but it's the fear they're carrying the West Nile Virus that has health officials worried. The virus is spread by mosquitoes and can range in severity from no symptoms at all, or mild illness, to death. That's only in the worst cases and usually in the elderly. Gillespie says, "In a majority of the cases, people will become ill and not show symptoms. People think it's flu, but in some cases it can lead to encephalitis and it could be life threatening." Darren Fager of Murphysboro says, "I don't know, I guess there's a lot to worry about, but I'm not worried about it." Paula Mitchell of Murphysboro disagrees. She says, "I'm a little concerned, especially since we live in a river area and around low lying areas where mosquitos gather."

Even though there have been no West Nile cases identified in Murphysboro or any other part of Southern Illinois, the Franklin County Health Department isn't taking any chances. "We're developing a response plan for the West Nile Virus and educating people on how they can prevent this mosquito borne disease," Gillespie says. The only way to control the virus is to control mosquitos or take precautions. Avoid peak mosquito hours which are before and after sunset and before dawn. Wear long sleeves and pants, light clothes are the best. Eliminate standing water you may have outside your home. Adults should use an insect repellant that contains the chemical DEET, and don't depend on bug zappers to zap away all the mosquitoes.

So far there have been no West Nile Virus cases this year in Missouri, Kentucky or Tennessee. But with all the high water from flooding there will be more mosquitoes this summer. Good news though, those floodwater or temporary pool mosquitoes usually don't carry diseases.