Warm weather is here and summer’s just a few weeks away — along with swarms of mosquitoes. Despite fewer West Nile virus cases in recent years, Nebraska health officials are still watchful for outbreaks.
Deb Scholten, director of the Northeast Nebraska Public Health Department in Wayne, says the number of West Nile cases has dropped over the past few summers, but it’s still a threat.
“It’s a neurological problem and if you’re bit by a mosquito and you start getting fever and chills, you’re not going to directly associate it with that mosquito bite because mosquitoes are all over the place in the summer,” Scholten says. “We need to keep in mind, it may be something more than just a cold.”
West Nile was first reported in the U-S about ten years ago and immunity is building up in many of us, however, she says the West Nile problem may never go totally away.
“We know that just about any disease can resurge,” Scholten says, pointing to recent reappearances of mumps, measles and whooping cough. She says people should use common sense and bug repellent when outdoors.
Several health outlets in the state test pools of mosquitoes and dead birds for West Nile virus. Michelle Bever, executive director of the South Heartland District Health Department in Hastings, says they’ll start the testing soon.
“The health department every year will ramp up the season to trap mosquitoes and test those mosquitoes for West Nile virus,” Bever says. “We also accept dead birds from the public if they find them and we submit those to the state lab for testing as well.”
The department’s health educator, Desiree Rinne, offers some tips to “Fight the Bite” this season. Rinne suggests following the four D’s.
“Dusk to dawn, avoiding outdoor activity during those times when mosquitoes are most active,” Rinne says. “Dressing appropriately with long sleeves, pants and socks when you’re outside. Using (the chemical) DEET in mosquito repellant and draining any standing water.”
Last year, at least 28 Nebraskans were reported infected with West Nile virus, 16 were hospitalized, but there were no deaths.
By: Tyson Havranek, KHAS, Hastings and Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton