The species of mosquito that can carry the Zika virus has been found in Nebraska for the first time, state health officials said Tuesday.
The mosquitoes, Aedes aegypti, were collected in York County, about 100 miles west of Omaha, as part of state and local health departments’ efforts to trap, track and monitor the number of West Nile-carrying mosquitoes that are present in Nebraska communities.
The species is common in more tropical areas where it transmits not only Zika virus but also chikungunya, dengue and yellow fevers.
Dr. Tom Safranek, Nebraska’s state epidemiologist, said state officials have not yet tested the insects for the viruses that cause those illnesses.
However, he said it’s unlikely that the mosquitoes will be infected with the viruses. To transmit them, the mosquitoes would have to bite a person who is currently infected and then bite an uninfected person. None of the diseases are endemic to Nebraska. Only a person who had recently traveled to such areas would be likely to be infected.
This type of mosquito bites primarily during the daytime and feeds only on people. And it can’t fly very far, only about 500 feet.
“I think it’s unlikely we’ll find any of these viruses in any of these mosquitoes,” he said.
Health officials, in fact, were surprised to find the mosquitoes at all, Safranek said. They’ve been setting traps for mosquitoes for some time in about 140 locations around the state. Initially, they found three or four of the Zika-carrying species in traps meant for West Nile-carrying mosquitoes. They went back and set traps that target Aedes aegypti and netted about 40.
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“It was really kind of a surprise,” he said. “We just never thought it would really be an issue for us.”
Safranek said health officials first plan to work with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to do genetic testing to see whether they can determine where in the world the mosquitoes originated.
If they have mosquitoes left, they’ll seek to test for the viruses.
One theory, he said, is that the mosquitoes came into the state as eggs, possibly in used tires, from another location.
Jeff Hamik, state public health entomologist, said the mosquitoes initially were found in a more residential area. Investigators now are trying to trace them and see whether they can determine where locally they came from.
Nebraska has had one reported case of Zika this year in a person who had traveled to an area where the virus is more common, Safranek said. Travel has been involved in all of the sporadic reports the state has had of the virus since the outbreak in Central and South America.
According to the CDC, no local mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission has been reported in the continental United States in 2018 and 2019.
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