Highlight on Nebraska: State Hopes Early Testing Will Curb West Nile Infections

Nebraska health departments began testing for West Nile virus in June 2014, although most human cases of West Nile are reported in August and September. On June 1, the Scotts Bluff County Health Department started collecting mosquitoes and  accepting dead birds for testing. The city of Gering, located in Scotts Bluff County, began spraying for mosquitoes on June 10. Although it may seem early for testing, the Two Rivers Public Health Department announced that mosquitoes testing positive for West Nile have been found in Cherry County, Nebraska.

West Nile Virus

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), West Nile is most commonly transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. Humans cannot become infected with West Nile by handling infected birds, whether alive or dead. Health departments often test dead birds for West Nile, however, as a way to gauge rates of mosquito infection in an area.

The vast majority—70 to 80 percent—of infected humans do not develop any symptoms, but those who do develop symptoms may experience fever, headache, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. Less than 1 percent of infected humans will develop a serious neurological illness, such as encephalitis or meningitis; of those who develop neurologic infections, about 10 percent will die. There is no vaccine or antiviral treatment for West Nile virus infection, though over-the-counter medicines can relieve some symptoms.

Prevention

Preventing mosquito bites is the most effective way to prevent West Nile infection. The CDC recommends the following:

  • Using insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol when outside.
  • Wearing long sleeves, long pants, and socks when outdoors; clothing can be sprayed with repellent containing permethrin or another EPA-registered repellent for extra protection.
  • Taking extra care during peak mosquito biting hours—from dusk to dawn.
  • Installing or repairing screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes outside.
  • Emptying standing water from flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet water dishes, discarded tires, and birdbaths on a regular basis to help reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home.
  • Supporting local community mosquito control programs.
  • Reporting dead birds to local authorities.

Nebraska Programs

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Safety, has developed a West Nile Virus Surveillance Program to track and prevent the spread of infection. There have been no reported human cases of West Nile infection yet in 2014; however, in 2013 there were 226 cases reported, five of which resulted in death. Nebraskans seeking additional information about West Nile should call (402) 471-2937; those who found a dead bird can find the correct number for their county’s surveillance program here. The state also has special information for farmers regarding mosquito-breeding on their land.

Horses

Horses can become infected with West Nile virus by mosquito bites, but cannot transmit the virus to humans. There is an approved vaccine for horses that requires two doses, three to six weeks apart. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln provides diagnostic testing for West Nile virus at its Veterinary Diagnostic Center.