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posted: 6/25/2013 9:54 PM

DuPage looks to raise awareness about West Nile virus

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To help residents protect themselves against mosquito-borne illness, the DuPage County Health Department has launched a "personal protection index" to inform the public about the amount of West Nile virus activity in the area.

The index, which is expected to appear as a widget on various websites, will use a scale of zero to four, with zero being no activity and four announcing that multiple human cases of West Nile virus have been confirmed.

"It gives us the ability to tell the community whether there is zero or a very high risk of interfacing with West Nile virus," Maureen McHugh, the health department executive director, said to county board members on Tuesday.

DuPage had 56 confirmed cases of West Nile virus last year, including five West Nile-related deaths.

Health officials said the index will advise residents about what precautions they should be taking, such as draining standing water, using insect repellent and being careful at dusk and dawn.

When the index reaches its highest level, it will be suggested residents do all those things in addition to wearing long sleeves, pants and closed shoes while outdoors.

Based on the health department's review of human and mosquito surveillance data, the index will be updated by 3 p.m. each Wednesday throughout the West Nile virus season, officials said.

"While we all enjoy spending time outdoors, it is essential we take the necessary precautions to defend ourselves from West Nile virus," county board Chairman Dan Cronin said in a statement. "Thanks to the health department, residents now have the tools they need to keep their families healthy and safe."

Implementing a public health education campaign about mosquito activity is one of several recommendations made by a mosquito abatement task force.

The task force's other recommendations include working with the forest preserve district, establishing standardized abatement practices for municipalities and exploring whether DuPage's nine townships should oversee all of the county's abatement efforts.

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