Health Department Initiatives in Public Education, Surveillance and Response to WNV
Increasing public awareness of the need for mosquito control, ongoing surveillance of vulnerable populations and coordination of response to outbreaks offers the best chance of controlling this disease
The Environmental Health Division takes a lead role in county efforts to combat outbreaks of West Nile virus (WNV) by raising public awareness about the disease through education, helping to ensure surveillance of potentially infected humans, mammals and birds and controlling the spread of the disease. West Nile Virus is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause mild illness (West Nile fever) or severe symptoms (encephalitis or meningitis) in humans and other animals bitten by infected mosquitoes. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on birds that carry the virus in their blood. Currently, no vaccine against WNV is available so that mosquito abatement is one of the main tools that can be used to reduce the incidence of the disease. People over the age of 50 are more likely to develop serious symptoms of WNV if they do get sick and should take special care to avoid mosquito bites. WNV is now considered to be an endemic pathogen in many parts of the world including the United States.
Monday – Friday 8:00AM – 4:30PM
Monday – Friday 8:00AM – 4:00PM
Monday – Friday 8:00AM – 4:00PM
West Nile Virus Awareness Among the General Public and Health and Veterinarians
Since outbreaks of West Nile virus occur each summer in the United States, increased public awareness could become one of the keys to mitigating the effects of a disease that is always spread in much the same way and generally presents the same set of symptoms. West Nile virus is transmitted to people by infected mosquitoes. In the United States, most people are infected from June through September, and the number of these infections usually peaks in mid-August. In 2012, there was a spike in WNV with the largest number of cases being reported to the CDC through July since 2004.
Given the fact that there is no vaccine against WNV, an enhanced understanding of the symptoms and treatment of the disease on the part of physicians and other health professionals affords the best chance of receiving timely medical treatment or palliative care once diagnosed.
To increase awareness of the disease among the general public, the Environmental Health Division of the WCHD has written articles informing county residents of how they can stem the spread of the virus by denying mosquitos the stagnant water in which they breed and how they can protect themselves from mosquito bites. The Division intends to continue authoring additional articles for posting in divisional news whenever appropriate and will also use public education forums, press releases, newspaper articles and social media to meet our public awareness objectives.
Response to the Threat of WNV
Informing the Public and Testing in Response to an Outbreak
In the event of a dead bird actually testing positive for WNV or the identification of suspected or confirmed human cases, the department will immediately notify the public of the situation and provide advice on how they may best protect themselves. In order to accomplish this, the department will use every means including press releases, social media, newspapers and radio spots on WJOL. If a human case has actually been confirmed, the department will alert both health care providers and the general public that the transmission to more humans is an imminent threat.
At the same time, the department will inform local agencies and health care providers and coordinate with local mosquito abatement contacts to ensure that appropriate control measures are being carried out. Subject to funding, the department will also work with the IDPH and local agencies to implement mosquito control programs in areas of the county not originally covered. The department also must make sure that a coordinated interagency response is maintained throughout the emergency.
In addition to helping coordinate the response of agencies of government and informing the public, the department will continue its own dead bird monitoring and collection so long as it is required by the IDPH. Subject to funding, the WCHD will also deploy field personnel to trap birds and mosquitos and identify potential breeding grounds.
By undertaking these measures and maintaining vigilance against any possible West Nile outbreak, the Will County Health Department and the Environmental Health division hope to prevent the illness, disability and even death that follows from being infected by the virus.