A human case of West Nile virus in western Nebraska serves as a warning to all Nebraskans.
West Nile virus, carried by mosquitoes, is highly seasonal, according to State Epidemiologist Dr. Tom Safranek, who says it takes off at this time of year, increasing through the month of August, peaking around Labor Day.
“It’s variable the number of cases we get, but we’ll learn of between 100 and 200 individuals who will get reported to us with West Nile virus infection,” Safranek tells Nebraska Radio Network.
The case reported by the Scotts Bluff County Health Department is rather mild.
Safranek says that 90% of the West Nile virus cases don’t develop any symptoms. Of the 10% which do, the person will run a fever, develop headaches, body aches, with fatigue and weakness. Only 1% develop serious illnesses such as encephalitis or meningitis (inflammation of the brain and surrounding tissues).
The most vulnerable to the worst cases are those over 50 who have weakened immune systems. Last year, Nebraska recorded 68 cases of West Nile virus, resulting in two deaths.
Though few are likely to become very ill, Safranek says it’s nothing to take lightly.
“This virus gets into our system and it uses the central nervous system as it’s breeding ground. It infects nerve cells and turns those nerve cells into factories to produce more West Nile virus,” Safranek says, adding we don’t want the central nervous system turned into a petri dish of West Nile virus.
Prevention remains the key and the Dept. of Health and Human Services has provided tips:
· Wear mosquito repellent when you go outside. Repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535 and some lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide longer-lasting protection.
· 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.
· Drain standing water around your home. Standing water and warmth breed mosquitoes.
West Nile virus is transmitted to people through the bite of a mosquito that picked up the virus by feeding on an infected bird, according to DHHS.
DHHS started its West Nile virus surveillance in June. West Nile mosquito pools have been found in Lancaster County and Phelps County.
Click here for the DHHS West Nile virus webpage.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]