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A mild winter and warm spring has pushed up West Nile Virus surveillance. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) will be accepting birds submitted for West Nile virus testing two weeks earlier than normal this year. The Department started accepting dead birds for testing on Monday, April 16, 2012, as opposed to May 1, the date when West Nile virus surveillance began in years past.

“West Nile Virus has typically started May 1 of each year; this year’s season begins earlier due to the warm winter and spring temperatures,” explained Carl Caneva, City of Evanston’s Environmental Health Manager. “Evanston residents can avoid the virus by preventing mosquitoes. Dump out containers of water, check the screens on your windows and make sure they are in good condition and not ripped, and empty out containers of water on your property.” West Nile Virus mosquitoes are not associated with floods, but rather heat and drought.

Public health officials believe that a hot summer increases mosquito activity and the risk of disease from West Nile virus.

“The earlier submission of birds is an effort to help detect any early West Nile virus activity prompted by the unusually warm weather this winter and spring,” said Dr. Arthur F. Kohrman, state health department acting director.

Surveillance for West Nile virus in Illinois includes laboratory tests on mosquito batches, dead crows, blue jays, robins and other perching birds, as well as testing sick horses and humans with West Nile-like disease symptoms. People who observe a sick or dying crow, blue jay, robin or other perching bird should contact their local health department, which will determine if the bird will be picked up for testing.

The first West Nile virus positive results in 2011 were collected on June 8 and included two birds from LaSalle County. Last year, 19 counties in Illinois reported a West Nile virus positive mosquito batch, bird and/or human case. A total of 34 Illinois residents contracted West Nile virus disease, and three died.

West Nile virus is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito that has picked up the virus by feeding on an infected bird. Common West Nile virus symptoms include fever, nausea, headache and muscle aches. Symptoms may last from a few days to a few weeks. However, four out of five people infected with West Nile virus will not show any symptoms. In rare cases, severe illness including meningitis or encephalitis, or even death, can occur. People older than 50 are at higher risk for severe illness from West Nile Virus.

The best way to prevent West Nile disease or any other mosquito-borne illness is to reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home and to take personal precautions to avoid mosquito bites. Precautions include:

Avoid being outdoors when mosquitoes are most active, especially between dusk and dawn.

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. More from the CDC on repellents here>>>.

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. 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.