6 things you need to know about Zika and Nebraska

(Photo Courtesy Center for Disease Control)
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June 17, 2016 - 6:45am

You have heard lots of news about the Zika virus, its effects on people in South and Central America, and even how it might impact the Summer Olympics. Could it impact your life in Nebraska?


Maybe not directly, but the trends make it clear you need to pay attention to Zika in the coming months and probably for years to come. Here are answers to a few questions we’ve been asking.

THE MOSQUITO WRANGLER

Doug Wheeler is on the front lines in the state’s surveillance of disease carrying mosquitoes. For several years he’s been trapping common house mosquitoes for the Southeastern Nebraska Health Department.  

He sends the bugs (packed in dry ice) to the State of Nebraska’s public health lab to identify the type and test to see if they carry the West Nile Virus.

At night the trap uses a light to attract the bugs close enough for a small fan to suck them into a net bag.

This year is the first time Wheeler set a second trap for Aedes albopictus, the scientific name for the Asian Tiger mosquito, believed to be a carrier of the Zika virus.

The Aedes group are aggressive day time biters, that have started moving north only recently. The day trap uses a foul-smelling slurry of water and rabbit chow to draw the bugs into their nets.

Wheeler takes pride in the additional responsibility, being part of a public health research.

“It’s interesting but it’s also scary, because we don’t know that much about the Zika virus yet,” Wheeler says.

Kevin Cluskey, the director of the four county health department adds, “If we know what the issue is before it becomes an issue we have a better opportunity to protect ourselves against it. It gives us a better opportunity to not be reactionary but to be proactive.”

(Photos by Bill Kelly, NET News)

 

  1. The Mosquitoes are here. Zika is not.
    Last year two cases of Zika were reported in Nebraska, but they did not contract it here. Both picked up the virus during visits to other countries. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports “no local mosquito-borne Zika virus disease cases have been reported in US states.”  
    In the past few years one type of mosquito which does carry Zika began to make Nebraska home. That is a concern for state health officials.
     
  2. There are two types of mosquitoes that carry Zika. Only one lives in Nebraska.
    Zika is primarily spread through mosquito bites. (Cases of sexual transmission have been found, and potentially from blood transfusions.) Two kinds of tropical and sub-tropical mosquitoes in the Aedes species are the primary culprits, A. aegypti and A. albopictus. The albopictus is also known by the tougher sounding name: Asian Tiger. It has a history of spreading other viruses including dengue fever.
    The mosquito bothering you in the backyard most of the summer? That's the common house mosquito (Culex pipiens). For now, there is no evidence it transmits Zika. Entomologists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln prepared a great breakdown of how the types differ.
     
  3. Soon other parts of Nebraska will likely host the mosquitoes.
    Another unfortunate side effect of a gradually warming climate. As seasonal temperatures rise in the Great Plains, the range of sub-tropical pests like the Asian Tiger mosquito will grow.
    The latest maps showing where the mosquitoes of concern have been found appear in the June 2016 issue of Journal of Medical Entomology. The researchers conclude the mosquitoes are not as wide-spread across the United States as first feared, but they have edged into Nebraska. They advise there is a “need for systematic surveillance” in coming years to better track the Zika carriers.
     
  4. Zika is horrible, but not as scary as you think.
    You’ve probably read about the horrible birth defects resulting from a mother contracting the Zika virus before her baby was born. So many children have been affected in Central and South America that the World Health Organization declared a  Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
    With the situation so dire for the families impacted, it’s often overlooked that for most of the human population, Zika (in the words of one infectious disease physician) is more of a nuisance.
    The CDC writes on its webpage “The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. Many people might not realize they have been infected.”
     
  5. You should worry more about West Nile Virus than Zika.
    West Nile can cause encephalitis, a brain infection. Since 2002, when it was first reported in Nebraska, 67 people have died of the virus. Over 3,400 residents have been diagnosed with the illness in the state. It has been reported in every corner of the state.
     
  6. You take the same precautions to protect yourself from both Zika and West Nile.
    It’s a mosquito-borne disease, so in the words of Kevin Clusky, director of the Southeast Nebraska Health Department, “one of the things you can do to not get West Nile is not get bit by a mosquito.”
    As glib as it sounds, prevention is the key to avoiding West Nile and, potentially, Zika. “Wear shirt and shoes (and) long sleeve shirts when you can,” advises Cluskey.  “Also applying mosquito repellant that contains DEET.”
    According to the Nebraska Division of Public Health anyone can also help control the mosquito population by reducing the number of places they like to breed, especially by draining any standing water that attract the insects.

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