Punishing July storms have flooded rivers, closed streets and triggered emergency declarations around the Chicago area. The rain and flooding have also raised public health concerns about mosquitoes.
So far this year, one human case of West Nile has been reported in Illinois. With standing water as a breeding ground, more mosquitoes could be on the way – but that doesn’t necessarily mean more people will get sick.
“If we get very heavy rain, it could actually flush out the eggs and larvae that are going to become adult mosquitoes and actually reduce the number of cases of West Nile Virus we see in Illinois,” said Dr. Samuel Dorevitch, an environmental epidemiologist and associate professor at the UIC School of Public Health. “Temperature is actually a better predictor. In particular, warm winters are often followed by summers with a large number of cases. As the climate continues to get warmer, that means more cases of West Nile virus.”
Heavy rain also brings other public health concerns – like emotional stress, asthma and allergy symptoms triggered by mold growth, people injuring themselves while wading through flooded houses or yards, and contaminated drinking water wells, Dorevitch says. And while storms may have washed away developing mosquitoes, he warns that water left standing for more than five days can become a breeding ground.
“If there is a bird bath, a kiddie pool, a wheelbarrow, you name it in the yard, empty those. If gutters are blocked and there’s standing water in there, those things need to be cleaned out.” Dorevitch said. He also recommends wearing long pants and sleeves in light colors, and using bug spray with DEET.
Dorevitch joins Chicago Tonight for a conversation, along with Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.
For more information about preventing the spread of mosquitoes, visit the Illinois Department of Public Health’s website.
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