The Panhandle Public Health District says a mosquito trap site in Scottsbluff County recently tested positive for two diseases transmitted by mosquito bites – West Nile virus and St Louis encephalitis.
As late as the weekend, Nebraska didn’t have a mosquito pool anywhere in the state test positive for West Nile, but now there are positives on both sides of the state in the Lincoln and Scottsbluff areas.
There have been no human West Nile cases anywhere in the state so far, but Panhandle Public Health District Environmental Health Coordinator Melissa Haas says the positive pools are a warning that human cases could follow.
PPHD has testing sites around the Panhandle to trap and monitor mosquitoes for West Nile, which the insects get from infected birds. PPHD for many years would test dead birds brought in by the public for the virus, but that program has ended.
The number of West Nile cases in Nebraska can fluctuate dramatically depending on spring and winter weather. There were just 32 cases last year, but 251 in 2018 – the third-highest total since the disease arrived in the state in 2002.
St Louis encephalitis is much less frequent in Nebraska and the country with totals ranging from 1 to 19 nationally since 2010.
8 out of 10 people with West Nile never develop symptoms, but the disease can be fatal. The same is true of St Louis encephalitis, and the early symptoms of both are similar including fever, headache, dizziness, and nausea.
Haas says the best way to prevent either disease is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes with a handful of simple precautions the best defense.
Those include using insect repellent that has DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus, avoiding going out at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active, and wearing long sleeve shirts and pants.
She also recommends draining small pools of standing water where mosquitoes can breed such as bird baths, kids wagons, flowerpots, gutters, and old discarded tires.