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Western fights West Nile

Caitlyn Schoonover

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The McDonough County Health Department and the Western Illinois University virology lab recently found mosquitos infected with the West Nile Virus in the Macomb and Colchester area. Due to the budget standoff, Western is currently assisting in the funding of the surveillance program.

 According to Catherine Miller-Hunt, virologist professor at Western who also runs the lab, the mosquitoes tested proved to contain high amounts of the virus. Chris Adams, the environmental health director for the McDonough County Health Department, said the West Nile Virus got its name because of how widespread it is in Africa.

 “The first case of WNV in the United States was in 1999 around the New York area,” Adams said.  

 The WNV did not reach Illinois until 2002.

 According to Adams, there have been no reported human cases of WNV in McDonough County in the last year. However, there are currently three cases in Illinois.

  Adams and Miller-Hunt both confirmed that the WNV surveillance program is paid for out of the West Nile Prevention Grant from the Illinois Department of Health.  However, a budget has not been passed by the state for local health departments so Western is currently funding the program.

 The McDonough County Health Department has been working closely with the Miller-Hunt virology lab testing mosquitos in the area for the virus.

“The tools and lab expertise they bring to the table has only allowed us to have a better and more accurate way to detect the presence of the virus in the county,” Adams said.

 Adams said Gravid traps are used to collect the mosquitos. 

 “In a nutshell, the trap is placed over a container that holds some nasty, smelly ole water that the mosquitoes love to lay their eggs in,” Adams said. “When the mosquitoes go to lay their eggs or land on the water they are vacuumed up into a tub that has a net over the top of it. A fan is used to not only suck up the mosquitoes, but to also keep them contained in the nets,”  

 According to Miller-Hunt, the mosquitoes are collected from the traps every four to seven days. They are then frozen in order to kill the insects. Finally, they are combined with a solution and tested for the virus. 

  Adams said the grant was created in response to the 2002 WNV outbreak that hit the state, and was designed to provide public heath protection and to keep the population informed about potential risk. The WNV can affect people differently. 

 “A healthy person may only experience a mild infection which can cause nausea, malaise, rash and headaches,” Adams said.  “Most people who are infected have no symptoms or may experience mild illness… Symptoms generally occur three to 15 days following the bite of an infected mosquito.  Less than one percent of persons infected with WNV will develop severe illness.”

 For a mild infection, symptoms typically last three to six days.  More serious infection side effects include paralysis, seizures, fever, weakness and other neurological issues.

 For severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary for intravenous fluids, airway management, respiratory support and prevention of secondary infections, such as pneumonia.

 Adams said that the best way to prevent WNV is to reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home and neighborhood. 

 “Avoid being outdoors when mosquitoes are most active, especially between dusk and dawn,” Adams said.  “When outdoors, wear shoes and socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, and apply insect repellent that includes DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus according to label instructions.”

 Adams also noted residents should check their windows to make sure there are no tears in the screens and to eliminate all sources of standing water as that is the breeding ground for mosquitoes.

For more information on the West Nile Virus you can contact Catherine Miller-Hunt of the virology department located in Waggoner Hall at

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The independent student newspaper of Western Illinois University. Serving Macomb since 1905.
Western fights West Nile