Illinois sees first human case of West Nile

Wednesday, August 7, 2002

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- State health officials reported the first known human case of West Nile virus in Illinois on Tuesday and said more cases are likely before summer ends.

The 22-year-old woman, a student from Maryland, reported only minor symptoms -- fever, achy muscles and a slight rash -- and has recovered, said Dr. John Lumpkin, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The student spent eight weeks in Illinois, living in suburban Cook County and working in DuPage County for the summer. The woman lived in Hoffman Estates, Dan O'Malley, the village's acting manager, said after talking to health officials.

The student went home after becoming ill July 26, and her bout of West Nile virus was confirmed Tuesday by Maryland health officials. Because she was living in Illinois throughout the disease's incubation period, officials are certain she contracted it in Illinois.

Lumpkin said after hundreds of birds and mosquitoes were found to have the disease this summer statewide, it was "inevitable" to find a human case here.

"West Nile virus has certainly been a part of our reality in the state, and ... it's going to be part of our reality for sometime into the near future," Lumpkin said at a Statehouse news conference.

Illinois is the fifth state to report a human case.

Five people in Louisiana have died this summer of West Nile, a virus that can cause flu-like symptoms and potentially fatal swelling of the brain, or encephalitis. Mississippi, Texas and Arkansas have also had confirmed or suspected human cases.

Most of the victims have been older people or those with weak immune systems.

The disease has been found in more than 100 people this year, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Since 1999, the virus has been found in birds and people in 34 states and Washington, and health officials expect it will continue spreading west.

Lumpkin said the student suffered West Nile fever, a mild form of the disease. She was never sick enough to require hospitalization, but she did seek treatment because of publicity about the disease's symptoms.

Lumpkin said it is likely there will be another human case of the disease in Illinois. The state already may have seen mild cases that were never diagnosed, he said.

"By and large, this is a mild illness," Lumpkin said. "Most people who do get bit by a mosquito will not even notice anything different. They may think they have the flu, it will run its course and they will go back to their regular activities."

He said Illinois has about 100 cases of encephalitis each year, some of which could be caused by West Nile.

Lumpkin said people should not panic over the possibility of contracting a fatal case of the virus. He said the chances are one out of 40,000 of that happening, and the mosquito season will end within two months.

Health officials urge spraying for mosquitoes when the virus has been detected and say people should eliminate standing water from their lawns to reduce their risk. Wearing insect repellent and long pants and shirts are also recommended.

West Nile has been found among animals in 46 Illinois counties.


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