At this time in 2002, Illinois was well on its way to reporting more positive West Nile virus human cases than any other state. So far the summer has been quiet for Champaign County, and health officials want to keep it that way.
State agency representatives said Champaign County is well-prepared for surveillance because it uses resources from the Illinois State Natural History Survey entomology department, the University of Illinois and its public health department. The county failed to receive any of a round of grants awarded by the Illinois Department of Public Health on Wednesday, but funding still remains a possibility.
"Champaign did apply for a grant and they were notified that we weren't rejecting them," said Tammy Leonard, spokeswoman for the department. "We hope to get more money from the Centers for Disease Control and we will know about that in the fall."
The money would be available for use in Champaign around spring 2004. In total, the state gave $180,000 to 18 local health departments on Wednesday for West Nile surveillance, including Vermilion County's. Officials said the funds were handed out to counties in greatest need.
"We wanted the money to go to the areas that have no resources or less resources," said Leonard. "Champaign-Urbana already has a two-year grant from us."
Penny Ludwinski, communicable disease coordinator for the Champaign County Public Health Department, said efforts continue to kill mosquito larvae, which hatch in standing water, with non-toxic chemicals. The Champaign-Urbana Encephalitis Prevention program, headed by Robert Novak, an entomologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey, handles the initiative.
"It doesn't hurt the environment, but it destroys larvae," she said.
Novak recruits University of Illinois students to work seasonally to collect mosquito samples for testing.
"C-U is well taken care of," said Richard Lampman, a research scientist at the Natural History Survey. "Groups of people go out daily, run traps and look at pools of standing water."
Lampman compared living in the Champaign-Urbana area to having a heart attack at a world-renowned hospital.
Even with the unpredictability of the virus, Ludwinski sees a pattern. She said the West Nile virus seems to hit the South hard and continue west year after year. In 2003, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma and Texas added their names to West Nile virus hit list.
"Every state in the Union will probably have a positive case of birds, mosquitoes or humans," said Ludwinski.
But in Illinois, the news has been good in 2003. The state ended 2002 with 884 positive human cases, about 250 more than any other state. The virus caused 66 deaths and was identified in 100 of the state's 102 counties. This year, 24 birds and 60 mosquito batches in Illinois have tested positive for West Nile. Lampman credits the cooler summer temperatures with providing relief.
"Last year, there were early mild temperatures that ran into hot periods with no rain," he added. "That was perfect for mosquitoes in standing pools."
Mosquitoes become infected with the virus when they bite infected birds. The disease is transferred to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes. West Nile virus surveillance in Illinois has been under way since May.
The best defense against the virus is to reduce exposure outdoors at sunrise and sunset, officials said. They also advise wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts, eliminating stagnant water around houses and applying insect repellants.
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