GREEN BAY - Experts are calling the recent outbreak of West Nile virus one of the largest in more than a decade.
"It's an epidemic," says University of Wisconsin-Madison epidemiology professor and West Nile virus researcher Tony Goldberg.
The West Nile virus continues to spread across the nation. A second person has died in Michigan from the illness.
It has been an unusual season for the mosquito-borne virus.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, every state in the lower 48 has some sort of activity of West Nile virus.
About 40 people have died; 1,100 others have gotten sick from West Nile.
Typically, fewer than 300 cases are reported by mid-August.
The virus, which is commonly found in ravens, blue jays and crows and transmitted by mosquitoes, can be passed along to humans if bitten by an infected mosquito.
But Goldberg says another bird can be a "super spreader" of the disease – Wisconsin's state bird, the American robin.
"Dead crows are a good sentinel of West Nile virus infection," explained Goldberg in a phone interview with FOX 11. "But crows are so susceptible [to the disease]; they often die so quickly from the infection."
Goldberg and his team have been working in the western suburbs of Chicago, studying the ecology of the virus for about 10 years.
Goldberg says genetic testing of the blood meal of captured mosquitoes shows a large presence of American robin DNA.
With the bird's prevalence throughout the Midwest, he says the robin is likely the primary carrier of the disease. Not ravens, crows or blue jays.
"Robins, in particular, are able to sustain the infection for long enough that they can transmit it on to another mosquito and they also happen to be very abundant and the mosquitoes prefer to feed on them preferentially," said Goldberg.
So how might you come down with West Nile virus?
Well, it depends on the type of mosquito.
If you're sitting outside during the day and you're being bit, you don't have to worry too much about those mosquitoes, says Goldberg.
Those are known as floodwater mosquitoes and can't carry the virus.
But he says it's the ones that come out in the early mornings or at night that you have to watch out for.
"People often think if they're getting attacked by these floodwater mosquitoes, then they're at risk for West Nile virus. Well, actually, these Culex pipiens mosquitoes, they breed in stagnant water, so they like it when it's hot and dry," explained Goldberg, referencing the prime, dry conditions the Midwest has been dealing with all summer.
Goldberg and the Brown County Health Department say the best way to combat the disease is to start in your own backyard.
That means cleaning out gutters, getting rid of standing water in kiddie pools or bird baths.
"Reducing standing water in your yard, cutting down vegetation that can attract mosquitoes; so those are things that people can do to also reduce the risk," said Brown County Health Department director Judy Friederichs.
That also means covering up with long sleeves and using bug repellant with DEET in it, when possible.
You can view an interactive map of West Nile cases throughout the U.S. here.
The link also includes a question and answer about the virus and how to prevent it.
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