According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States is having the biggest outbreak of West Nile virus since 2004. While Texas is the hardest hit, Illinois has reported cases in 38 counties, compared to only 15 last year.
In the Chicago area, two suburban public officials have come down with West Nile, including Lombard’s village president, who died over the weekend. On Tuesday, Evergreen Parks Mayor James Sexton revealed that he too had come down West Nile.
There's one comforting thing about the situation in Chicago: It's "Definitely not [as dire as in Dallas]," Illinois Director of Public Health Dr. LeMar Hasbrouck told Eight Forty-Eight's Tony Sarabia on Wednesday, referencing the 10 people who have died in that city and the 200 that have been infected this summer.
What's the cause? Like most things, scientists are attributing the infections to seasonal changes, because warmer temperatures speed the breeding process of mosquitos, who get West Nile from birds.
However, "It is an endemic infection, it is here to stay, it's just a matter of how we deal with it," says Dr. Hasbrouck. "I think it's probably going to be a cycical pattern, as with many infections."
Hasbrouck says that 1 in 200 mosquitos have this virus. Most people are bitten but don't even know they're infected — West Nile just works its way out of their system. However, there is a 1 in 10,000 chance of being infected and having severe neurological symptoms. And there's seemingly not much push nation-wide for a vaccine.
Perhaps that's because some doctors like Hasbrouck don't consider West Nile "that huge of a threat." At least, not yet. But more and more communities are investing in mosquito abatement programs, like Glenview and Skokie, which have seen two people infected in the past few weeks.
"The message for the general public is be aware of mosquitos and take the necessary precautions," says Dr. Hasbrouck. "I think you've got to take a balanced approach and you've got to see if there is more protection needed."
Some tips from the Chicago Department of Public Health to prevent West Nile:
And try to stamp down mosquito breeding by: