Q: Can those tiny flying insects that have been swarming around lately — some people call them 'no-see-ums' — cause any illnesses if they bite you?
A: If these pesky insects happen to be any of the biting midges found in Illinois, they can transmit a couple of diseases to livestock and deer only.
They don't transmit illnesses to people or pets, such as cats and dogs, in the Midwest, according to University of Illinois Entomology Professor BRIAN ALLAN.
But the tiny insects swarming outdoors in the area lately may not actually be biting midges, he said.
Allan said he recently encountered one of the swarms himself, and he believes these insects may well be soybean aphids — with one disclaimer. That's the best guess among him and his colleagues, since they haven't collected any of the insects from these swarms to take a closer look.
Soybean aphids are also tiny, but they don't bite or sting people. They're not even out looking for us, according to Allan.
Soybean aphids are said to feed on soybeans in the summer and are now flying around looking for the kind of plant they prefer to lay their eggs on in the fall, which is buckthorn.
Biting midges, on the other hand, are blood-sucking insects that are part of the Ceratopogonidae family, and people sometimes refer to them as no-see-ums or gnats because they're so small they can fly right through window screens.
While we're on the subject of tiny flying pests, don't let your guard down quite yet against an insect that actually can make people sick — mosquitoes.
West Nile virus, which can be transmitted by mosquito bites, has turned up in more than half of Illinois' counties this year — which, in East Central Illinois, includes Champaign, Piatt, Ford, Moultrie, DeWitt and Iroquois counties.
Most people infected with West Nile virus won't experience any symptoms. But there have been 63 human cases of it, and two deaths, in the state this year.
Cool evening temperatures cut West Nile virus risk during the fall, said JEFF BLACKFORD, program coordinator at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. But the risk won't really end for the season until there has been a hard freeze that kills vegetation and exposed mosquitoes, he said.