WEST NILE VIRUS PUBLIC EDUCATION
Environmental Health West Nile Virus Public Education
West Nile Virus Awareness Among the General Public and Health and Veterinarians
Increased public awareness is key to mitigating the effects of West Nile Virus as outbreaks occur. Given the fact that there is no vaccine for WNV, an enhanced understanding of the symptoms and treatment of the disease on the part of physicians and other health professionals affords the best changes of receiving timely medical treatment and/or palliative care once diagnosed.
In order to increase awareness among the general public, the Will County Health Department Environmental Health Division provides information to county residents via press releases, news articles, social media, public education forums, and outreach events. Information provided includes how residents can stem the spread of the virus by denying mosquitoes areas to breed in stagnant water on their property and personal protection against mosquito bites.
Response to the Threat of West Nile Virus
Informing the Public and Testing in Response to an Outbreak
In the event of a dead bird testing positive for WNV or the identification of a confirmed or suspected human case, the Department will immediately notify the public and provide information on how they may best protect themselves. The Department will use various means of notification to the public, including press releases, social media, news outlets, and radio spots on WJOL. If a human case has been confirmed, the Department will alert area health care providers, municipalities, and the general public as the potential for additional transmission from mosquitos to humans may exist.
The Department will coordinate with local municipalities and mosquito abatement contacts to ensure that appropriate control measures are carried out. Subject to funding, the Department will also work with IDPH and local agencies to implement mosquito control programs in areas of the county that are not already covered. The Department will also ensure that a coordinated interagency response is maintained in an emergency event.
In addition, WCHD will continue monitoring, collecting, and testing mosquito traps throughout the county, and monitoring and collection of viable dead birds for submittal to the State lab for analysis as required by the IDPH.
By undertaking these measures and maintaining vigilance, the Will County Health Department hopes to prevent illness, disability, or possible death from West Nile Virus.
Surveillance of West Nile Virus Outbreaks
Increased Monitoring Efforts in Conjunction with Local Government and Health Care Providers
Local government units, health and veterinary care providers, and a variety of other agencies play a critical role in protecting public health. These groups are the first line of defense in identifying possible outbreaks of WNV. Agencies including park districts, highway and public works departments, and forest preserve districts have been informed about WCHD’s response plan and have been asked to increase their surveillance and notify WCHD of dead birds starting in May annually.
WCHD has also compiled a list of health care providers and works closely with them on surveillance of mosquito-borne diseases in patients. Health care provider testing protocols may involve submitting samples of cerebrospinal fluid and/or serum to an IDPH laboratory for testing from individuals diagnosed with aseptic meningitis, meningoencephalitis, acute encephalitis, and Guillain-Barre’s syndrome if identified between May-October. IDPH will in turn report confirmed cases to WCHD.
The Will County Health Department has also created a list of local veterinarians and animal care facilities in order to enlist their help in the surveillance of WNV. Veterinarians and veterinary facilities have been informed of this Department’s WNV response plan and have been requested to increase their surveillance of birds and horses that they treat for signs of WNV. Veterinarians and veterinary facilities are to follow procedures established by the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDA) for testing and reporting.
WCHD has undertaken certain measures to directly increase its role in surveillance of WNV. The Environmental Health Division applies for and works under a grant from the Illinois Department of Public Health annually. As part of the grant program, the EH Division traps and collects mosquitoes throughout the county for WNV testing. WCHD collection and testing of mosquitoes usually starts in late April and can last thru October or even into November (weather dependent).
WCHD has established a dedicated phone number/hotline to provide information about WNV and accept reports of dead birds and/or unusual bird mortality. WCHD also keeps a log of all calls and uses a screening process to determine collection of dead birds. WCHD works with Will County Animal Control to collect dead birds that are forwarded to the University Of Illinois Veterinary School Of Medicine for testing. Results from testing are reported to WCHD and mapped by IDPH.
WCHD holds a free West Nile Virus seminar annually for representatives from units of government, park districts, forest preserves, and health care providers. The seminar is held prior to the start of WNV active season (generally in March or early April). WCHD intends to continue to hold such seminars in the future, so long as the need remains.
West Nile Virus Surveillance Hotline