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It was just a few years ago that news of a woman suffering from a potentially life-threatening illness because of a little mosquito bite would have many of us wringing our hands in fear that we might be next. Government offices would be called into action, press conferences would be held and large trucks spewing gallons of insecticide would be ordered to patrol the streets.

The presence of the West Nile Virus is no less a threat today than it was in 2002 when 17 people in Cook County died from the disease. Last month’s diagnosis of a Forest Park woman with West Nile encephalitis, which was made public earlier this month, is confirmation of that. The difference between then and now though, is that hysteria has subsided and we are supposedly more aware of how to protect ourselves from this infection.

Between 2003 and 2006, nine people in Cook County have died from West Nile, according to records maintained by the county.

“People don’t need to panic or be overly excited about it,” Director of Public Health and Safety Mike Boyle said of the confirmation that West Nile has again been spotted in Forest Park. “There’s no way to be sure where she got infected.”

No doubt, Boyle’s statement is a pacifying one, but it’s also an important point to remember. Regardless of where this woman was bitten by an infected mosquito, any of us could just as easily be struck sitting in our backyards as we could vacationing in Wisconsin. West Nile Virus is “endemic” in our society, Boyle said, and we simply need to learn how to limit our risks.

Pools of standing water are a great breeding ground for mosquitoes and should be spilled or covered. As much as possible, mow your lawn regularly so that mosquitoes aren’t given a chance to hideout in taller grasses. Check the screens in your windows, wear bug repellent, and if you can stay out of the woods at night when mosquitoes are likely to be active.

In the unlikely event of an infection, most patients experience only mild to moderate symptoms and rarely does the condition become fatal. If nothing else, perhaps these precautions will give us all a few less reasons to scratch.

Storming the castle

A somewhat remarkable meeting took place in Forest Park last week that gives this page the opportunity to do something rare indeed-that is to speak optimistically of the Proviso Township High School District.

Community members from a collection of the 10 municipalities that send their children and their money to District 209 gathered in the basement of the Forest Park Library to talk about accountability. There is a deplorable lack of accountability with respect to the three public high schools in Proviso and this group is right to focus its attention primarily on the school board.

Yes, a greater level of interest needs to be taken by the community at large, but the antics and outright deceptive habits of this school board deserve the credit for disenfranchising so many.

The direction this fledgling group appears to be headed is worthy of broad support and has the support of this editorial page.