West Nile Virus could become a threat in Nebraska, despite the spreading drought.
Drought actually could be making matters worse. Though lack of rain might limit mosquito habitat, the limited pools of water seem to draw mosquitoes which carry the West Nile Virus into closer contact with birds, increasing the chance of its spread.
State health officials have already discovered mosquitoes with West Nile Virus in Adams and Sheridan Counties. Birds in Madison and Phelps Counties have tested positive for the disease.
Now, a man in his 70s has contracted the disease, the first human case discovered by state health officials.
State Epidemiologist, Dr. Thomas Safranek, cautions the season has just started.
“It’s going to get more prevalent here over the next few weeks,” Safranek tells Nebraska Radio Network. “We now know from 10 years of experience it ramps up and it really peaks around Labor Day. If we go the next six weeks here, we’re going to see more of this. This is the prime season for West Nile Virus.”
Safranek says health officials cannot predict the spread or severity of West Nile Virus in any given summer. First discovered in Nebraska in 2002, it hit its peak in the state a year later when officials charted 2,000 cases. It has dropped off dramatically since, but hasn’t gone away.
Prevention is the key. First, any breeding grounds for mosquitoes must be destroyed. Safranek explains that mosquitoes do not wander far from where they are hatched, so draining standing and stagnant water around the house is the first step toward prevention.
Next, protect yourself when you step outside.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services has issued a series of recommendations.
• Use mosquito repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535.
• Dress in long-sleeved shirts, pants and socks when you’re outside.
• Dusk and dawn are times when mosquitoes are most active. Limit outdoor activities.
Prevention is emphasized, according to Safranek, because treatment hasn’t proven very effective against West Nile Virus.
West Nile is transmitted to people through the bite of a mosquito that picked up the virus by feeding on an infected bird, according to DHHS.
Most infected by a mosquito have no symptoms or only mild flu-like symptoms, according to DHHS, which adds about one out of 150 people infected with West Nile Virus become severely ill. Older residents and those with compromised immune systems are especially vulnerable.
DHHS reports West Nile fever includes flu-like symptoms such as fever and muscle weakness. Symptoms of the more serious West Nile encephalitis include inflammation of the brain, disorientation, convulsions and paralysis.
DHHS is currently testing dead birds. It requests residents report dead birds to their local health department.
You can find West Nile case updates and more information on the DHHS website by clicking here.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]
AUDIO: Brent Martin interviews Dr. Thomas Safranek on West Nile Virus. [9 min.]