West Nile Virus and St. Louis encephalitis are both transmitted to humans from the bite of a mosquito that has picked up the virus by feeding on an infected bird.  In the summer of 2006, Winnebago County reported over 700 dead bird calls, with 11 birds confirmed as positive with infection by West Nile Virus.


 “Once again, the Winnebago County Health Department has opened a phone line for residents to report the location and number of dead birds” said Larry Swacina, Environmental Health Director.  The report line number to call is (815) 720-4245.  After calling in a report of a dead bird, please dispose of the bird yourself, if not picked up for testing within 24 hours of your call” added Larry.  When calling the hotline to report dead birds, please leave the address, zip code, town, type and number of dead birds found. The Illinois Department of Public Health has limited the number of dead birds which can be submitted for WNV testing in 2007 by Winnebago and other counties. 

There are three simple rules to follow when calling the Winnebago County Health Department:

1. The bird is dead, but the carcass is in good condition.

Birds should be dead no more than about 48 hours prior to collection, and should not show signs of advanced decomposition (maggots, strong odor, dried or deflated eyes).

2. The bird shows no sign it died of causes other than disease.

Birds with obvious injuries such as wounds or missing parts, should not be submitted for testing. Likewise, crushed carcasses and birds found along roadways are not acceptable.

3. The bird must be a one that is acceptable for testing.

Some acceptable species are crows, blue jays, grackles, starlings, robins, cardinals, sparrows, finches, hawks and owls. Birds that will not be accepted include pigeons, ducks, geese, chickens, other large birds and endangered species.

Remember, dead birds cannot spread West Nile Virus, but it is advised to avoid barehanded contact with dead birds and other animals since they carry a variety of germs.  Please use a shovel, gloves or double-plastic bags to place the carcass in garbage bag or can” added Larry.  The Health Department has also opened a West Nile Virus Information line for residents who have questions or wish to speak to a health professional.  That number is 815/720-4240. 

The best protection against mosquito-borne encephalitis is to limit outdoor activities at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes that could carry the virus are most active.  Protective clothing will ideally include lightweight, loose fitting, long-sleeved shirts, pants and socks.  It’s best to always apply a repellant containing DEET (25% for adults, 10% for children, and not recommended for infants) when going outdoors. Last year, CDC has added two new products containing picaridin and lemon of eucalyptus.  Both ingredients have also proven effective as mosquito repellents.

Personal/Home Precautions to Prevent Mosquito Borne Encephalitis:

ü      Alert health authorities to potential mosquito breeding sites in your area.

ü      Avoid outdoor activities in the early morning and at dusk.  Whenever outdoors between dusk and dawn, wear shoes and socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.  Loose-fitting, light-colored clothing is best.

ü      Apply insect repellent to exposed skin.  An effective repellent will contain 25 to 35 percent of the active ingredient DEET or picaridin or lemon of eucalyptus.  Spray the repellent not only on exposed skin but also on clothing.  Consult a physician before using repellents on very young children. 

ü      Drain standing water in your yard at least once a week.  Pour water from mosquito breeding sites, such as flower pots, pet bowls, clogged rain gutters, swimming pool covers, boats, discarded tires, buckets, barrels, cans, or similar items in which mosquitoes can lay eggs. For permanent standing pools of water, mosquito larvicide can be used. The larvicide can be purchased from many retail stores selling garden supplies. Please follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for use.

ü      Check screens on porches and patios for tears and other openings.

Most people infected with West Nile Virus or St. Louis encephalitis have no signs or symptoms of illness. Some individuals may become ill, usually three to fifteen days after having been bitten by an infected mosquito.  The virus may occasionally cause serious complications.  In some individuals, particularly the elderly, the virus can cause muscle weakness, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), stiff neck, stupor, disorientation, tremors, convulsions, paralysis, coma or death.  It should be noted that the odds of being bitten by an infected mosquito and developing serious or life-threatening symptoms are minimal.  Nevertheless, taking all recommended precautions (below) is encouraged, due to the potential seriousness of becoming infected by West Nile Virus or St. Louis encephalitis.

For more information on West Nile Virus, visit the following websites:

            Illinois Department of Public Health at www.idph.state.il.us

            Center for Disease Control at www.cdc.gov.ncidod/dvbid/westnile/index.htm

            Winnebago County Health Department at www.wchd.org