State Cope with West Nile Virus on Many Fronts
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health,
Illinois was the state hardest hit by the 2002 West Nile virus outbreak,
with 48 human deaths and 738 human cases of the mosquito-borne disease
reported as of early November.
The virus, common to Africa, the Middle East and West Asia, was identified
in the eastern United States in 1999. It has moved westward across the
country and was first seen in Illinois in 2001.
The College of Veterinary Medicine played an important role throughout
this year, assisting state agencies with surveillance, offering public
education, and treating WNV cases in the hospital and wildlife clinic.
Dr. John Andrews (right),
director of the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, leads 4th-year
students in a necropsy of an owl with West Nile virus.
In April the Colleges Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, along
with the Animal Disease Laboratory in Galesburg, Ill., began identifying
crows and blue jays infected with the virus as part of the states
surveillance plan. By fall infected birds had been identified from nearly
all Illinois counties.
In June the College hosted a public forum to provide accurate and timely
information on the virus.
In August the diagnostic laboratory began offering a serologic test
to detect recent WNV infection in horses. The equine section of the
Veterinary Teaching Hospital was inundated with WNV cases throughout
the summer and fall.
Also in August, the Colleges Spatial Analysis/GIS Laboratory,
under the supervision of Dr. Marilyn Ruiz in collaboration with Dr.
Uriel Kitron, veterinary pathobiology, launched a Web-based mapping
program to dynamically depict the spread of the virus throughout the
state. The site was updated frequently with data from the state public
In September the diagnostic laboratory announced that it had documented
the nations first cases of deaths caused by WNV in a dog, a wolf,
and squirrels. The dog, an 8-year-old Irish setter-golden retriever
mix from Bloomington-Normal, appeared to have other potentially immune-compromising
infections at the time of its death. College Extension staff issued
fact sheets for the public and for small animal veterinarians to allay
the concerns of dog owners.
The Colleges Wildlife Medical Clinic also saw increased activity
due to the WNV outbreak. Large numbers of infected owls and hawks were
brought to the clinic. Bird populations in Illinois zoos, including
pelicans and flamingos, were also affected, according to tests performed
by the diagnostic laboratory.