Local mosquitoes test positive for West Nile virus

September 19, 2018

The East Central District Health Department during Tuesday’s Platte County Board of Supervisors meeting confirmed that recent mosquito samplings collected in Columbus tested positive for West Nile virus for the first time this summer.

Caitlin Schneider, chief public health officer at the department, said she and her colleagues learned on Sept. 14 from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that samplings collected Sept. 6 from two of five local trapping locations – set biweekly – revealed the virus.

“Really, the ones they are looking for are the Culex mosquitoes that typically transmit the virus,” Schneider said of DHHS employees who receive and test mosquito samplings. “They also look for the mosquito that carries Zika (virus), but we haven’t had any of those in our area.”

Schneider said that the department’s health district, comprised of Platte, Boone, Nance and Colfax counties, has encountered four human cases of West Nile virus this year. Statewide, there have been 123 documented cases of the virus this year resulting in four deaths, according to information provided by DHHS.

The health officer said that though several cases of the virus have been recorded in the district before, this year’s symptoms appear to be more extreme.

“It’s not unusual to have cases in our district, but what is a little unusual is that more are the neuroinvasive type,” she said. “Basically, it can affect the nerves in the nervous system so it’s a little more heightened than the usual body aches and fever (associated with the virus).”

It’s difficult to predict from year to year what the mosquito season will bring in terms of the virus, she said. Since 2015, the health district representatives have erected CDC light traps that use lighting and dry ice to lure the insects near the hanging traps before a fan sucks them into a collection container for sampling.

Schneider chose not to comment on the specific locations in Columbus where the positive-testing samplings came from.

The data provided by DHHS shows that West Nile numbers vary from year to year. Statewide, in 2016 there was one confirmed death followed by two deaths in 2017. 2003 was a particularly rough mosquito season with 27 recorded fatalities throughout the state attributed to the virus.

“So it’s definitely not the highest that we’ve seen, but it is a little higher than it has been the last couple of years,” Schneider said.

Generally, she said, confirmed cases are often linked to older populations that have weaker immune systems and less of a tolerance of fighting off symptoms associated with West Nile.

Schneider said that most Culex mosquitoes prone to carrying the virus are active in the morning and evening. Because of this, she encourages people to limit their outside exposure during these times of the day. If they are outside during these times, she recommends using an ample amount of mosquito repellent in tandem with wearing pants and shirts with long sleeves.

In addition, she said people should continue being wary of standing water on their property. Old tires, bird baths and buckets containing any water are ideal locations for mosquitoes to reproduce.

“If you can eliminate the spots mosquitoes breed, the better,” Schneider said.

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at Sam.Pimper@lee.net.

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