HOLDREGE — Mosquito counts in south-central Nebraska are “extremely high,” according to a Two Rivers Public Health official in Holdrege.
The health district, which covers Dawson, Phelps, Gosper, Kearney, Harlan, Franklin and Buffalo counties, sets mosquito traps every year in Dawson, Phelps and Buffalo counties, said Two Rivers health educator Katie Mulligan. The department then has calculated a trap index — the number of mosquitoes collected, divided by the number of traps, divided by the number of nights the traps were set outside.
According to the findings, the trap index of all mosquito breeds was 194 earlier this week. The five-year average is 19.
The counts of the Culex mosquito, which carries the West Nile virus after becoming infected by a bird, is at 86. That five-year average is 6.
Mosquitoes lay their larvae in sitting water, Mulligan said, and Nebraska still is overflowing with water after spring floods. When it floods, health officials expect more mosquitoes, but Mulligan said not one mosquito, bird or person has tested positive for West Nile this year.
“More mosquitoes doesn’t necessarily mean more West Nile. It means more mosquitoes,” Mulligan said.
Health officials are keeping a close watch on the disease, though. Nebraska epidemiologist and physician Thomas Safranek said mid-August is when the biggest number of infections occur in Nebraska. The mosquitoes usually die after the first frost, Mulligan said.
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Last summer an alarming number of Nebraskans fell ill from contracting the West Nile virus. Within the Two Rivers district, Mulligan said 11 people contracted West Nile in 2018. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more people in Nebraska contracted the West Nile virus than any other state in the country. According to Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services 2018 data, 288 Nebraskans tested positive for the virus, 119 of which were neuroinvasive. Eleven Nebraskans died from the virus last year.
The neuroinvasive form of the disease may cause encephalitis and/or meningitis. According to DHHS, symptoms include headaches, neck stiffness, disorientation, stupor, high fever, occasional convulsions, coma, tremors and paralysis. Less severe symptoms include bodyaches, a skin rash, fever and swollen lymph glands.
“We have this habitat that is ideal for the Culex tarsalis mosquito,” Safranek said. “We (Nebraskans) truly are at the epicenter of the problem.”
Safranek said he doesn’t know the exact reason why so many people experienced the neuroinvasive virus last year.
“Obviously one of the things you’re worried about is, does it represent some kind of a mutation? You know, has the virus gotten more virulent? (Has it) developed a greater infinity for getting into the nervous system and causing problems?” he said. “That’s what we’re worried about. We’ll be watching it really closely this year.”
Safranek emphasizes West Nile virus prevention, especially after hearing from family members of people who have suffered from the disease.
“And when you hear the sadness and the despair in people who are severely affected by it from being perfectly healthy to so debilitated, I want to do more to get the message across to people that it’s important to avoid the mosquito bites ...,” he said.