Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton
(Photo by Jeff Vorva)
Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton lost 60 pounds the hard way.
And he nearly lost his life.
So when there is even a hint that the West Nile virus can be found in his village, he takes it seriously.
Sexton, who has battled and survived the West Nile virus, and Oak Lawn officials said the Illinois Department of Public Health reported last week that mosquitoes testing positive for West Nile virus were found in Oak Lawn and Evergreen Park in May—one in each village.
Sexton said it serves as a reminder to residents to take precautions.
Sexton, who survived a serious bout with West Nile virus in 2012, said his village had been at the forefront of the battle against West Nile virus since 2002.
“I take a serious, hard look at (reports of positive tests). But we were leading the way on this, even before I got sick,” said Sexton. “We’ve always taken a very aggressive approach (to mosquito abatement), since 2002. We’re going to continue on this same path.’’
Sexton contracted the virus in 2012 right around the time another mayor, Lombard’s Bill Mueller, died of West Nile virus. The story was huge in the Chicago area.
“I certainly wasn’t looking for the PR that Evergreen Park received,’’ Sexton said. “But in a strange way it was good if it helped others by shedding light on the seriousness of the situation. I spent 45 days in Christ Hospital, including two in intensive care.
“I lost 60 pounds, but I wouldn’t recommend that diet to anyone,” he added wryly.
A single mosquito with West Nile doesn’t sound like big news, but Sexton has some warnings.
“I am not sure how seriously people take it, but we all must be diligent in covering up and applying repellant when mosquitoes are active,” he said.
Sexton encouraged residents to be diligent about checking their property for standing water, and disperse it.
“The village will abate it,” said Sexton, explaining that anyone needing help to get rid of water can get assistance from the village.
The IDPH statement said employees collected a positive mosquito batch on May 21 in Oak Lawn, and another one on May 26, in Evergreen Park. These were the first positive batches in northern Illinois this year, according to a statement. No human cases were involved, and none have been reported so far this year.
Last year, 50 counties in Illinois reported a West Nile virus positive mosquito batch, bird and/or human case. IDPH reported 44 human cases in 2014, including four deaths.
Douglas Wright, general manager of the South Cook County Mosquito Abatement District, explained that finding by the IDPH of one or two mosquitoes that tested positive will not require any additional action to be taken beyond what is being done already.
“We have treated catch basins in Evergreen Park (and Oak Lawn) with larvicidal briquettes, slow-acting over 45 days. We are constantly clearing standing water (where mosquitoes lay eggs) and checking traps. We are monitoring, and if we see repetitive tests coming back positive, we will take further action,” he said.
Oak Lawn Village Manager Larry Deetjen also stressed people should take this seriously. “West Nile is a serious virus and residents should take precautions,” he said, noting that there is information about prevention provided on the village website (under Latest News) at www.oaklawn-il.gov and on Channel 4.
“We proactively treat the storm sewers with larvicide. This time of year we will get more aggressive in enforcing village ordinances, such as keeping grass cut,” he said.
In addition to tall grass, the village manager added that outdoor wood piles are also not permitted, because they often retain water and attract mosquitoes.
He encouraged residents to be aware of any stagnant water, in pools and gutters or elsewhere, and contact the village if they need help getting rid of it.Surveillance for West Nile virus in Illinois includes laboratory tests on mosquito batches, dead crows, blue jays, robins and other perching birds, as well as testing sick horses and humans with West Nile virus-like symptoms. People who observe a sick or dying crow, blue jay, robin or other perching bird should contact their local health department, which will determine if the bird will be picked up for testing.
West Nile virus is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito that has picked up the virus by feeding on an infected bird. Common symptoms include fever, nausea, headache and muscle aches. Symptoms may last from a few days to a few weeks. However, four out of five people infected with West Nile virus will not show any symptoms. In rare cases, severe illness including meningitis or encephalitis, or even death, can occur.