With the hunting seasons getting underway, hunters need to take note of this…West Nile Virus (WNV) is in the news again. Chase County and Red Willow County have both confirmed WNV cases recently.
The first part of August, I had a chance to talk with Dr. Tom Janousek, an entomologist and leading researcher for WNV, on my radio show. He provided some insight on WNV and how people who work and play outdoors can protect themselves.
“West Nile Virus was first identified in 1999 in New York City. It spread down the east coast and reached Nebraska in 2002”, Janousek said. “The peak year for West Nile Virus cases so far was in 2003. There were some 1900 cases and 27 deaths associated with the virus that year.”
“As far as West Nile Virus is considered, we are in the middle of the season where the virus can be transmitted. August to the middle of September is the peak transmission time for the virus,” added Janousek. “The best data I have right now is 17 official cases, 9 positive blood donors and zero deaths in Nebraska for 2017. Keep in mind that it takes time to get cases confirmed and the Nebraska Department of Health may not have its website up to date because of that.”
“Mosquitoes need water to breed so the outlook for rest of season will depend on weather. If you have small rains it will produce mosquito batches of mosquitoes,” said Janousek. “But harder, more intense rains will flush the larvae to the rivers and they will become fish food. Over in Grand Island, I have several catch basins in a field trial and they have been regularly flushed of mosquito larvae. It will take a couple of hard freezes later this fall to kill the mosquitoes and nullify the WNV threat for this year.”
West Nile Virus is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito that has picked up the virus by feeding on an infected bird. Most people with the virus have no clinical symptoms of illness, but some may become ill up to 14 days after the bite of an infected mosquito.
Only about two people out of 10 who are bitten by an infected mosquito will experience any illness. People older than 50 years of age have the highest risk of severe disease.
Janousek said the best way to prevent WNV or any other mosquito-borne illness is to reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home and to take personal precautions to avoid mosquito bites.
One of the first precautions you’ll see is avoid being outdoors when mosquitoes are most active, especially between dusk and dawn. This is tough to do if you’re an archer and hanging on the side of a tree the first part of the deer season.
A more practical suggestion when you’re in the field is to wear shoes, socks, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt with a collar and a head net if possible. Cover up as much of your skin as practical so mosquitoes have less of your skin to get to and bite you.
Use a good insect repellent. Picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus are a couple of ingredients to look for if you want to avoid harsher chemicals. A repellent containing a 30-35 percent DEET has been shown to work very well in a number of tests. More DEET is not really necessary.
Around home, make sure doors and windows are shut or have tight-fitting screens. Repair or replace screens and doors with problems. Minimize standing water on your property. Bird baths and wading pools are big culprits. Don’t forget to check your gutters or potted plants with reservoirs underneath them.
Enjoy your hunting seasons, but take a few precautions to deal with mosquitoes until we’ve had a couple of hard frosts.