Cook County issues mosquito warning due to recent heavy rain

A high alert has been issued in Cook County where heavy rains and standing water have created the perfect conditions for a city-wide mosquito infestation.

Anyone with standing water on their property is being advised to take precautions to ensure that they don't become breeding grounds for the pesky insects.

West Nile virus has been found in mosquitos in Chicago for more than a decade. But now, there are fears the Zika virus might spread to Chicago as well.

A giant mosquito sculpture in the Loop is part of a public awareness campaign designed to inform people about limiting our exposure to mosquitos as we head into the warmer months. And while people traveling to places where mosquitos carry the Zika virus could potentially bring the deadly virus to Chicago, you can count on the West Nile being back again this spring and summer.

Cook County is on high alert and taking steps to prevent the mosquito population from exploding. Recent heavy rains have created breeding grounds in pools of standing water and in more unlikely places.

"We're doing extreme surveillance; we're looking for certain mosquitos that transmit West Nile Virus,” said Douglas Wright, GM of Cook County Mosquito abatement.

West Nile continues to be the most serious threat in the greater Chicago area. Mosquitos carrying the virus have been found every year since 2001. Victims bitten by mosquitos carrying West Nile can expect to suffer from a wide range of symptoms, and some can be deadly.

"It causes flu-like symptoms, fever headaches, stuff like that, in the worst case scenario it can cause coma and death,” said biologist Michael Slamecka.

A vaccine for West Nile virus is now in human trials. However, there is no treatment for the potentially deadly Zika virus, which can be passed from pregnant mother to fetus. Zika has been linked to severe birth defects and has been found in American women who have traveled to parts of South America and Africa.

But there is good news for Chicagoans. Mosquitos carrying the Zika virus are not found here locally.

Sara Prins had planned a trip to Puerto Rico but canceled her plans and now doesn't worry Zika might impact her pregnancy.

"Obviously you feel somewhat of a threat because you're carrying a baby, but the only threat I really felt was if I had traveled,” Prins said.

As for keeping the mosquitos at bay, the Centers for Disease Control advises using insect repellents that include at least 20 percent deet, which they recommend for both skin and for clothing.