Tips on protecting yourself from the West Nile virus

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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) -- Illinois had 90 confirmed West Nile virus cases last year, three of them in Winnebago County. Mosquitoes are the main carrier of the disease. Now that the weather's warming up, we'll see more of the bugs out and about.

"West Nile virus has been detected at least in mosquitoes and birds every year in our county for the past 15 years," said Ryan Kerch, the Environmental Health Supervisor with the Winnebago County Health Department.

Cases of West Nile tripled in the U.S. in the past 13 years according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health officals say now's the time to take precautions like stopping mosquitoes from laying eggs around your home to prevent contracting the disease.

"Most people who contract the virus won't show any signs, for those who do the symptoms include a headache, fatigue, fever, and cramps, things similar to like the flu. It's most likely going to affect very young, very old, or people with compromised immune systems. Those are the people who are most at risk for that developing into a form of encephalitis, which can have much more severe consequences," said Kerch.

The health department suggests we follow the three R's, reduce, repel, and report. First, reduce the number of sites where mosquitoes might breed.

"Getting rid of stagnant water is really the biggest one; these mosquitoes typically don't fly too far from where they breed, so the fewer places that they've got to lay their eggs, the less likely that there's going to be mosquitoes around your home," said Kerch.

Second, you can repel the bugs by wearing long sleeve clothing, use insect repellent that contains DEET, and hire companies to spray your home.

"It's a general repellent, so it's either going to kill or repel them. So as they come to the structure, it will eliminate them or they will fly away. We come once in the spring, once in the summer, and once in the fall. We provide three exterior treatments. It’s really effective on the boxelder bugs, the stink bugs, the wasps, and it helps kill and repel the mosquitoes, the spiders, and earwigs, so basically just about any insect," said Zach Patnou, the Manager at Midwest Pest Control.

Finally, make sure to report dead birds and stagnant water to the health department.

"We receive funding from the state to do West Nile Virus surveillance and prevention. We collect mosquito samples and dead birds to test for the presence of West Nile Virus. This is an indicator of potential human cases. The more mosquitoes and birds that we find early in the season tend to correlate with how many human cases we might see over a year," said Kerch.

Water that sits in used tires is a big breeding ground for mosquitoes as well. That's why the Winnebago County Health Department will host a free tire recycling drive on June 9. To register for the event, visit wchd.org.