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Health departments get state grants

West Nile virus might not be making as big a sting locally as it did more than 10 years ago, when it was discovered in Illinois.

But the potentially serious illness remains a threat.

Local health departments recently received grants from the state for programs to continue and improve West Nile virus surveillance and education.

The Lee County Health Department received more than $15,000, while the Whiteside County Health Department received about $17,500.

Both departments use the grant money – which they have received each year for the past several years – to conduct routine surveillance; that is, they set traps to collect mosquitoes, then test the insects for the virus. They also test dead birds for the virus.

Both departments also use the funds to educate people about the illness, chiefly how to protect themselves against mosquitoes.

They pay for public service announcements and advertisements on the radio and in the newspaper as well as billboards.

They also take extra measures to inform the public if the virus is found locally in a mosquito, bird or human.

“We don’t want [people] to become complacent,” said Cathy Ferguson, administrator of the Lee County Health Department.

Both departments likely would have to scale back their surveillance efforts without the annual grants.

“The only surveillance we might do is if we have a dead bird, then we might send it in to be tested,” said Gene Johnston, director of environmental health for the Whiteside County Health Department. “We certainly wouldn’t do any of the [mosquito] collection and testing.”

West Nile virus season is around the corner.

Mild cases of West Nile infections can cause a slight fever or headache, while more severe infections are marked by a rapid onset of a high fever with head and body aches, disorientation, tremors and convulsions.

Symptoms usually occur between 3 and 14 days after the bite by an infected mosquito. Those at the highest risk for serious illness are people 50 and older.

The best way to prevent West Nile virus is to reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home and neighborhood – chiefly by eliminating standing water, where the insects that typically carry the virus can breed – and to take personal precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

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