Do Chicago's suburbs hold the key to understanding West Nile virus? Tony Goldberg, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Veterinary Medicine, says the Chicago suburbs near Oak Lawn are the perfect laboratory for prying loose the secrets of the mosquito borne West Nile virus.
"There's something about that area of the west Chicago suburbs, that seems to be amenable to the transmission of vector borne diseases," says Goldberg. What that something is, still isn't clear, but Goldberg can report that crows and blue jays are not actually the most important bird species for amplifying the disease. He says the robin is "the indisputable super spreader" of the virus in the Chicago region. "They do get sick, but not so sick that they die right away, so they can carry the infection for long enough to transmit it to another mosquito and continue the cycle," says Goldberg. "There's enough of them around that they create quite a pool of individual that the virus can replicate in."
Goldberg says it's the young, fledging robins that are most likely to carry the disease. And robins, he notes "seem to be distributed around the landscape in ways that are really good for picking up the virus and distributing it to people. Everybody knows that robins like to hang out on your lawn."
Goldberg is in the first year of a five year study in the southwest Chicago suburbs, a "hot spot" for West Nile infections. Oak Lawn and surrounding suburbs, he notes, have a large number of human cases. "That's typical in cities where West Nile and other diseases that are transmitted by diseases are studied."