The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is reporting the first West Nile virus related deaths in Illinois for 2014. Two residents in northern Illinois who became ill with West Nile virus in late-August and early September have died.

Culex mosquito
Culex quinquefasciatus

“Although we’ve seen a cooler and wetter summer, which has resulted in less West Nile virus activity, these deaths show the virus is circulating and can cause death,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck. “Even with the cooler temperatures we’re seeing now, until the first hard freeze, you still need to protect yourself against mosquito bites and possible West Nile virus infection.”

To date, West Nile virus positive birds, mosquitoes and/or human cases have been reported in 47 counties. The first human case this year was reported on August 8th in a Cook County man in his 30s. So far this year, 15 human cases have been reported.

For the 2013 season, 117 residents were diagnosed with West Nile virus and 11 people died. Last year the first death was reported September 13, 2013.

West Nile virus is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito that has picked up the virus by feeding on an infected bird. Common West Nile virus symptoms include fever, nausea, headache and muscle aches. Symptoms may last from a few days to a few weeks. However, four out of five people infected with West Nile virus will not show any symptoms. In rare cases, severe illness including meningitis or encephalitis, or even death, can occur. People older than 50 are at higher risk for severe illness from West Nile virus.

The best way to prevent West Nile disease or any other mosquito-borne illness is to reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home and to take personal precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of September 16, a total of 45 states and the District of Columbia have reported West Nile virus infections in people, birds, or mosquitoes. Overall, 725 cases of West Nile virus disease in people have been reported to CDC, including 25 fatalities.