BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
Vermilion County is in the clear so far this summer as reports of West Nile virus are confirmed around the area.
The Ford-Iroquois County Health Department announced Monday a crow found in Gilman on July 16 has tested positive for the virus. It is the second county in east central Illinois, with Champaign County confirming the virus in a crow earlier this month.
The counties are two of just four birds in the state that have tested positive this year, with the others found in McHenry County near Chicago and Monroe County near St. Louis.
Despite the two nearby test confirmations, the Vermilion County Health Department indicated the county has been clean of the West Nile virus so far this year.
Doug Toole, director of environmental health for the county health department, said the most recent tests for West Nile virus came in June. The tests — both birds — came back negative and no others are pending this month.
Toole added that he was unaware of any testing on potential human cases so far this year.
The county notched no positive tests in 2012 — human or animal. According to Illinois Department of Public Health records, the county has only recorded two human cases in the last decade. Thirteen animal cases — mainly crows — were documented during that same time.
Despite the negative tests up to this point, Toole said the health department is continuing to watch for potential cases. In addition to crows, birds including blue jays, starlings, grackles and even robins can be tested for the West Nile virus, he said.
However, the county has a restriction on how many tests it can request from the state health department each year, forcing officials to send only the best possible samples.
Toole said bird specimens in good condition and potentially found the same day they died are best to test for the presence of West Nile virus. He said the county can only request between two and five tests on birds this year.
The West Nile virus is carried by mosquitoes when then feed on infected birds. The mosquitoes then transmit the virus when it bits humans along with other birds and animals.
In most people, the virus causes no symptoms or, at most, mild illness such as a fever and headache. But in the elderly, it can cause encephalitis which can cause permanent neurological damage and be potentially fatal.
Overall, Illinois has 32 counties this year with confirmed presence of West Nile virus — all through bird testing. No humans have been found with the virus this year.
The lack of human cases is a turnaround compared to 2012 when Illinois was among five states to record double-digit fatalities as a result of West Nile. Overall, the state recorded 290 human cases ranging from as young as 9 years old and as old as 89 years old.
In all, 55 counties confirmed some presence of West Nile through either human, horse, bird or mosquito testing.