Nebraska’s fall hunting seasons are here! Have you and your bow been sitting in a blind watching for deer or pronghorn. What about sitting out along a fencerow dove hunting? Maybe you have been tucked into a blind looking for teal or turkeys or sitting quietly in the timber waiting for squirrels or rabbits. If so, you may be at the greatest risk of contracting West Nile Virus (WNV).
This is due to the fact that the mosquito that carries the Est Nile Virus, the Culex mosquito, is fully mature and most active. This has also been a good year for Culex mosquito production because of the rain we’ve had and warm temperatures.
There are approximately 50 different species of mosquitoes in Nebraska. The majority of these mosquitoes do not transmit WNV. The Culex mosquito is the primary culprit.
As I put this article together, 32 cases of WNV have been diagnosed and reported in Nebraska for 2017 so far. Another 11 cases were identified through blood donors, and one death in southwestern Nebraska may be attributable to WNV.
Dr. Tom Janousek is my “go to” guy whenever I have questions about mosquitos. His Ph.D. is in mosquitoes and he is one of the premier researchers on WNV in the country today. He was in southern Texas when I talked to him Monday, working with the Air Force spraying for mosquitoes whose numbers have exploded in the flood water left by Hurricane Harvey.
“Mosquitoes can be a real problem,” said Janousek. “Worldwide, mosquitoes probably kill more people per year that natural disasters, war and epidemics combined. Right now we are spraying 300,000 acres a night to stay ahead of the problem. Here in south Texas we also have Zika and Chikunguna to worry about.”
“In Nebraska, the numbers for West Nile Virus are quite notable,” Janousek continued. “Nebraska is number one in positive blood donors, number two in death rate and number 3 in total cases.”
One question I’ve heard several times in the past week or so is, “Where are all these mosquitoes coming from?”
OK…..here’s a quick biology lesson. All mosquitoes need water to complete their life cycle. All mosquitoes go through four separate and distinct stages of development: Egg, Larva, Pupa, and Adult. The larval and pupal stages are spent in water.
The Culex mosquito does not travel very far, maybe up to two miles from where it was hatched, so you can have an impact on how many mosquitoes are around by limiting the amount of standing water on your property. Garden ponds, bird baths, pet water bowls, and specifically for us in Nebraska, irrigated fields are all sources of water in which the Culex mosquito can lay its eggs.
Around the house, one of the most overlooked areas in which standing water can exist is roof gutters. Leaves tend to plug up the drains and water backs up. This standing water can produce millions of mosquitoes each season.
Even if the water source dries out before they hatch, mosquito eggs can survive for up to five years. Mature mosquitoes pick up the virus from infected birds and pass it on to other birds, animals and people.
Horses may also become infected with West Nile virus after being bitten by an infected mosquito and this has been in the news recently. However, there is no evidence that horses can transmit WNV to other horses, birds or people.
Here is another interesting fact. Only the female mosquito takes blood. Male mosquitoes feed on plant nectar.
Now the “experts” say things like, “Don’t go outside at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active”. That advice may work for some folks but not for people who work outdoors for a living or hunters. Dawn and dusk are times when many animal species are most active, so that’s when I’m out there!
If you have to be out there at peak periods, the best way to protect yourself is to wear long pants, long sleeves; basically cover up as much skin as you can. Studies on repellents have shown that solutions containing DEET are quite effective, and a solution of about 30 percent DEET is optimal.
We will have to deal with mosquitoes and the potential threat of WNV until we have and a couple hard frosts. Come on cold weather! Enjoy the outdoors, but be careful out there!