Mosquitoes aren’t just annoying pests at your outdoor barbecue. They’re spreading West Nile virus across the Midwest this summer. And already one person in Illinois has had the illness. Experts say it’s time to go beyond the bug spray and take some extra precautions when you’re outside.
A Cook County resident tested positive for the virus in June, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Mosquitoes in at least 16 Ohio counties and 12 Indiana counties were also found to carry the disease.
Blood from an Ohio blood donor also tested positive for West Nile, but they didn’t have symptoms.
Mosquitoes tested positive for West Nile in Kentucky and Missouri, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but county-level data isn’t available for those states.
The mosquito species Culex is the main culprit for spreading the virus. It bites and infects birds that other mosquitos then bite and then spread the virus to people.
Headaches and fevers are the most common symptoms and can surface between a few days to a few weeks after a bite.
West Nile virus can be deadly for people with weak immune systems.
Virus carrying mosquitoes thrive and breeds in standing water. Jim Erwin, a biologist with Indiana’s Marion County Public Health Department, said residents should take steps beyond repellent to keep mosquitoes from biting.
“Just take a five-minute walk around your yard once a week and make sure there is no standing water in any containers," Erwin said. "Wear long sleeve shirts, and pants if you can. I know it’s been awful hot lately, but anything you can do to prevent mosquitoes from biting you, that would definitely help."