First human death of West Nile virus in Illinois in 2022 confirmed

The first human death in Illinois in 2022 from the West Nile virus was confirmed on Tuesday.

An unnamed individual in their late 70s passed away from the illness in Cook County, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed on Tuesday that WNV played a contributing role in the death and confirmed the diagnosis via laboratory testing.

“This unfortunate first reported death of the year from West Nile virus in Illinois is a reminder that this disease poses a risk, especially to those who have weakened immune systems,” said Dr. Sameer Vohra, Illinois health director. “While the weather is warm and mosquitos are breeding, we should all take precautions to protect ourselves from mosquitoes and the viruses they carry by wearing insect repellent and eliminating standing water around our homes where mosquitos breed.”

The department is able to surveil WNV in the state by inspecting the dead cows and birds as well as testing mosquito batches. Last year, there were approximately 48 counties in the state that reported the virus presence in animals. Meanwhile, five people died from the disease in 65 confirmed cases.

The disease usually spreads through the bite of a common house mosquito, called the Culex pipiens, which usually spreads the virus after sucking the blood of an infected animal. The health department notes that common symptoms from WNV include fever, nausea, headache and muscle pains that last days or weeks. However, an estimated four out of five people who test positive for the virus show no symptoms.

Severe cases of the disease may lead to meningitis or encephalitis, or death. West Nile virus is especially risky for individuals over the age of 50, who may have a higher chance of experiencing severe symptoms.

The IDPH states the first mosquito to test positive for the disease occurred on May 17. Additionally, three men over the age of 50 tested positive for WNV and were all hospitalized in New Jersey last week.

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