West Nile Virus Surveillance Program

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is West Nile virus?
2. What is West Nile encephalitis?
3. How can I get it?
4. Who is most at risk?
5. What are the symptoms?
6. Is there treatment or a vaccine?
7. Where do mosquitoes breed?
8. How can you reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home and neighborhood?
9. How can I protect myself?
10. Where else has West Nile virus been found?
11. Where do I call/go if I need more information about West Nile Virus?
12. What about dead birds?


1. What is West Nile virus?

West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne disease that can cause encephalitis, or a brain infection.  Mosquitoes acquire the virus from birds and pass it on to other birds, animals and people.

In 1999, West Nile virus appeared in four states.  In the summer of 2000, the virus was detected in 12 states and by December of 2001 the virus had been found in 27 states. 

Mosquitoes spread this virus after they feed on infected birds and then bite people, other birds and animals.  It is not spread by person-to-person contact and there is no evidence that people can get the virus by handling infected animals.

West Nile virus cases occur primarily in the late summer or early Fall, although the mosquito season is April through October.

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2. What is West Nile encephalitis?

West Nile encephalitis (WNE) is caused by West Nile virus (WNV), a flavivirus previously only found in Africa, Eastern Europe, and West Asia. WNV is closely related to St. Louis encephalitis virus (SLEV) which is found in the United States and to Kunjin virus (KV) which is found in Australia, some Western Pacific islands and parts of South East Asia.

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3. How can I get it?

People can only become infected with West Nile virus after being bitten by an infected mosquito. There is no evidence that people can get West Nile virus from infected animals or people, or that people can transmit the West Nile virus to other animals, birds, or people.

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4. Who is most at risk?

People over 50 years of age have the highest risk of developing a severe illness because as we age, our bodies have a harder time fighting off disease.   People with compromised immune systems are also at increased risk, however, anyone can get the virus.

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5. What are the symptoms?

People with mild infections may experience fever, headache, body aches, skin rash and swollen lymph glands.  People with more severe infections may experience high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, occasional convulsions and paralysis.   If you have any of these symptoms, contact your doctor.

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6. Is there treatment or a vaccine?

There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus infection, or a vaccine.  While most people fully recover from the virus, in some severe cases hospitalization may be needed.

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7. Where do mosquitoes breed?

There are about 50 different species of mosquitoes in Nebraska.  While most do not transmit West Nile virus, several mosquito species have been found to transmit the virus.

Mosquitoes lay their eggs in stagnant water around the home.  Weeds, tall grass, shrubbery and discarded tires also provide an outdoor home for adult mosquitoes.  By eliminating places for mosquitoes to breed, we can go a long way to prevent West Nile virus.

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8. How can you reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home and neighborhood?

Mosquitoes breed in standing water.  Even a small bucket that has stagnant water in it for seven days can become home to up to 1,000 mosquitoes.  Here are some easy tips to eliminate standing water:

  1. Dispose of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar water holding containers that have accumulated on your property. Do not overlook containers that have become overgrown by aquatic vegetation.
  2. Pay special attention to discarded tires that may have accumulated on your property.
  3. Drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers that are left out of doors. Drainage holes that are located on the container sides collect enough water for mosquitoes to breed in.
  4. Clean clogged roof gutters regularly (spring and fall), particularly if the leaves from surrounding trees have a tendency to plug up the drains. Roof gutters are easily overlooked but can produce millions of mosquitoes each season.
  5. Turn over plastic wading pools when not in use. A wading pool becomes a mosquito producer if it is not used on a regular basis.
  6. Turn over wheelbarrows and do not allow water to stagnate in birdbaths. Both provide breeding habitat for domestic mosquitoes.
  7. Aerate ornamental pools or stock them with fish. Water gardens are fashionable but become major mosquito producers if they are allowed to stagnate. Clean and chlorinate swimming pools that are not being used. A swimming pool that is left untended by a family that goes on vacation for a month can produce enough mosquitoes to result in neighborhood-wide complaints. Be aware that mosquitoes may even breed in the water that collects on swimming pool covers.
  8. Use landscaping to eliminate standing water that collects on your property. Mosquitoes will develop in any puddle that lasts for more than four days.

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9. How can I protect myself?

The best defense against the Virus is protecting yourself with mosquito repellant containing DEET. Picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptushave also been approved by the CDC.

It is not necessary to limit any outdoor activities, unless local officials advise you otherwise.

However, you can and should try to reduce your risk of being bitten by mosquitoes. In addition to reducing stagnant water in your yard, make sure all windows and doors have screens, and that all screens are in good repair.

If West Nile virus is found in your area:

  • Take normal steps to prevent insect bites.

  • Wear shoes, socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt when outdoors for long periods of time, or when mosquitoes are most active.

  • Consider the use of mosquito repellent, according to directions, when it is necessary to be outdoors. Wash all treated skin and clothing when returning indoors.

  • Remember, electromagnetic and ultrasound devices and Vitamin B are not effective in preventing mosquito bites.

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10. Where else has West Nile virus been found?

Prior to 1999, no West Nile virus cases had been reported in the United States. During the 1999 encephalitis outbreak, there were 62 human cases and seven deaths. In 2000, there were 21 diagnosed cases and two deaths. However many infected people showed mild flu-like symptoms or no symptoms at all.

In 2000, West Nile virus was found in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and New Hampshire. Positive horses have been found in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.

By December of 2001 the virus had been found in 27 states. 

 

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11. Where do I call/go if I need more information about West Nile Virus?

Visit other parts of this website, or call 402-471-2937.

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12. What about dead birds?

Dead birds can be an indication that West Nile virus is present in an area. More information about dead birds can be found on this web site.

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