Usually by this time in the year there's plenty of rain and at the same time there are plenty of the kind of mosquitos that love to munch on us.
This year, though, the hot, dry conditions that the area's been experiencing seem to be allowing another type of mosquito to thrive: the ones that carry West Nile Virus, experts said.
Over the past month, agencies that trap and test the critters have seen an increase in the numbers of positive batches of mosquitos, Sean McDermott, a spokesman for the Cook County Department of Public Health, said.
The increase is region-wide, McDermott added.
To see statewide information, click here.
This past month in Oak Lawn alone, 29 of 36 groups of mosquitos that were trapped tested positive for the disease, according to Michael Slameka, a biologist with the South Cook County Mosquito Abatement District, one of the agencies that's trapping and testing for the critters.
"We're not getting the nuisance mosquitos. It's not been wet enough," Slameka said. "Of the 60 breeds of mosquitos that are found in Illinois, one or two carry West Nile."
And the one that is the primary carrier of West Nile in this region is the Culex, McDermott said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, West Nile is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds. Infected mosquitoes can then spread it to humans and other animals when they bite.
Some dead birds have been found carrying the disease, but none so far in Oak Lawn, McDermott said.
The Chicago Tribune reports that six cases of West Nile have shown up in Cook County, none of them in Oak Lawn.
The season could last until early October, depending on the weather, Slameka said.
As these little guys tend to thrive in very little water, the best thing to do to keep the numbers down is to spray and get rid of the breeding sites, Slameka and McDermott said.
South Cook sprayed Wednesday and Thursday nights, Slameka said. "We're trying to keep (WNV) out of the human population. There are few human cases; we are doing a decent job of it," he said.
The most effective way to prevent against becoming infected with WNV is to follow these steps:
- Get rid of standing water around your home in pet bowls, flower pots, old tires, baby pools and toys. "Anything that holds water," McDermott said. Water that is allowed to stagnate for three or four days becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
- Make sure your doors and windows have tightly fitting screens and repair any tears or other openings.
- Keep weeds and grass cut short and keep gutters clean and free of debris.
- When outdoors between dusk and dawn, cover skin with lightly colored lose fitting clothing and use mosquito repellent with DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Always follow the directions on the label.
The most common symptons of West Nile include a fever, headache and body aches. A rash, in the form of small red spots, may appear on the chest, upper arms and hands, said Stephen Sokalski, chief of infectious diseases at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.
Most people infected with WNV may have few symptoms that could last three to seven days and will not require hospitalization, Sokalski said. About 25 percent of the people who get the disease could experience more significant side effects, such as high fever, confusion, stiff neck, muscle weakness, lethargy and a severe headache. Anyone experiencing these symptoms needs to see a physician right away, he added.
People over the age of 50 and those with chronic illnesses such as heart disease are at a higher risk for serious complications from encephalitis or meningitis, he added.
Residents are urged to call the Department of Public Health at 708-633-8025 to report a dead perching bird such as a blue jay or a robin.