West Nile virus detected in Lancaster County mosquitoes

The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department
The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department(John Grinvalds)
Published: Sep. 9, 2022 at 10:23 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department reported that mosquitoes in the area tested positive for West Nile virus on Friday, which means residents may be a greater risk of exposure.

A drier summer didn’t save Lancaster County residents from the six-legged menace with wings. In fact, mosquitoes can be more dangerous in dry conditions.

“When you have less water, then birds and mosquitoes tend to congregate at the areas that do have water,” Chris Schroeder, the health department’s environmental public health supervisor said. “And that can actually increase the spread of the virus because birds are what we call the reservoir for the virus. A mosquito bites an infected bird, and then a mosquito can transmit that virus to humans.”

Every two weeks between June and October, Schroeder and another health department employee set traps in six areas around Lincoln. The next day, the two collect the mosquitoes and send them off to a lab to test for viruses.

“We had two trapping sites that the mosquitoes tested positive for West Nile virus,” Schroeder said.

Fortunately, around 80% of the people who contract West Nile won’t even notice the virus. Some will face flu-like symptoms: fever, headaches and vomiting.

But for a small number, symptoms hit much harder.

“Then, less then 1%, what we’re concerned about is getting the neuro-invasive, where folks can have long-term negative health concerns and issues,” Schroeder said.

The county saw 10 positive human cases last year, and nine of those were neuro-invasive, according to Schroeder. This year, there’s just been one minor human case. Still, Schroeder encouraged the public to take precautions.

“Avoiding time around dusk and dawn,” Schroeder said. “Wearing a long sleeve shirt, pants, socks, shoes when you’re out door. Using an EPA registered insect repellent that has DEET, picaridin, eucalyptus oil.”

But the war against mosquitoes need not only be defensive. Schroeder urges residents to limit where they can breed

“Identifying areas that may hold standing water, emptying bird baths, pet bowls daily,” he said. “Doing those sorts of things that we want to actually minimize the breeding sites on the property. And that would be anything that would hold stagnant water or be a low lying area on the property.”

Mosquitoes may be on the prowl long into the fall, up until the first frost. Health department officials urge caution until then as they monitor the spread of West Nile virus.