SPRINGFIELD — All that warm, summerlike weather in March could bring an early start to mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus, state health officials say.
So state labs will begin accepting dead birds for testing two weeks earlier than usual, beginning on Monday, instead of waiting until May 1.
A dead bird can signal West Nile virus is present in the vicinity, because the virus is spread through the bites of mosquitoes feeding on infected birds.
Last year, the virus first turned up in Illinois on June 8 through two birds that tested positive from LaSalle County, and it was present in 19 counties in all, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
There were 34 people from Illinois who were sickened by the virus last year, and three who died from it, the health department said.
State labs will test mosquito batches, dead crows, blue jays, robins and other perching birds, as well as samples from sick horses and humans with West Nile-like disease symptoms.
Only 20 percent of people infected with West Nile virus will develop symptoms, which can include nausea, fever, headache and muscle aches, health experts say. But in rare cases, serious illness and death can occur, with people over 50 being at the highest risk.
Jeff Blackford, an environmental health program coordinator at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, said the district was able to submit 10 birds for testing from Champaign County last year.
Dead birds subject for testing should appear to have died within the last 48 hours, be free of decomposition, dry eyes and scavenging animals. And they should not appear to have been shot or run over by a vehicle, he said.
Anyone wishing to report a dead bird for investigation should call the environmental health division at 373-7900, he said.
The Ford-Iroquois Health Department is asking people finding dead birds (intact and dead for less than 24 hours) to double-bag them and bring them to the health department offices at 235 N. Taft St., Paxton, or 114 N. Third St., Watseka.