SPRINGFIELD — Illinois public health experts say they're seeing fewer human cases of the West Nile virus this summer but still asking residents to protect themselves against mosquito bites, which cause the infection.
Fewer pools of mosquitoes and fewer dead birds across Illinois are testing positive for the virus this year compared to last year, said Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Health.
The state has so far received 16 reported human cases this year, compared to nearly 90 statewide this time last year, the Springfield Journal-Register reported. Still, officials are urging the public to keep taking steps to protect themselves against mosquito bites.
Sangamon County has treated places where mosquitoes breed and has also supplied larvicide to municipalities to reduce the mosquito population, said Jim Stone, director of the Sangamon County Department of Public Health.
West Nile inflames the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord, according Steven O'Marro, an infectious-disease specialist with Springfield Clinic.
About 70 to 80 percent of people infected with West Nile don't exhibit any symptoms, while 20 to 30 percent may get West Nile fever and feel weak and get muscle aches but require no medical treatment, according to Dr. David Warren, an infectious-disease specialist at Washington University School of Medicine. He said only about 1 to 2 percent of patients get severe complications that result in hospitalization and sometimes death.
"I'm a big proponent now of people taking precautions," said Jack Handy, a Springfield man still recovering from the West Nile-related encephalitis he acquired last year.
Handy said he never took any of the recommended precautions when he was affected, such as avoiding outdoor activity at dusk and dawn, applying repellent, and wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outside.
Warren said it's important to reduce risk of mosquito bites because West Nile is just one of several diseases spread by the insect.