Nebraska DHHS: Zika Outbreak in Nebraska Unlikely

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June 13th, 2016

PHIL_2164_loresEven though the World Health Organization says the zika virus is a global public health emergency, a zika outbreak in Nebraska is “a relatively unlikely scenario.”


Midway through 2016 the number of reported cases of zika virus in the U.S sits at 691.

Two Nebraskans were infected with zika. Dr. Tom Safranek, an epidemiologist with Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services, said both of those people were infected while traveling to places with active outbreaks.

“We have not had any cases of zika where it’s been acquired here in Nebraska,” Safranek said. “We don’t anticipate that, and we think the likelihood of that is very small.”

 Safranek said the reason it’s unlikely Nebraska would see an outbreak is simply because of the way the virus is spread.

Zika can be transmitted through sexual contact, but the overwhelming majority of reported cases are traced back to mosquito bites.

Two types of mosquitos can transmit zika:, Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti. Aedes aegypti has never been found in Nebraska, Aedes albopictus is extremely rare in the state.

But Safranek says even if Aedes albopictus were common, a zika outbreak in Nebraska is still unlikely.

“There’s no known animal vector or a bird vector like there is for West Nile virus,” Safranek said. “So with zika virus, you have to have a human who is carrying the zika bug. And a mosquito has to bite that person during a time when they’re viremic, when they’re circulating the zika virus. So given the amount of Aedes mosquitos we have in Nebraska, we don’t think there’s a big likelihood of that. You need individuals in Nebraska viremic for the zika virus who are there to be bitten by the Aedes mosquito, and then that mosquito has to go bite another person.”

The CDC reports 4 out of 5 people infected with zika might never know they have it. For the unfortunate 1 in 5 who do get sick, the most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis or red eyes.

Zika has also been linked to a birth defect called microcephaly in babies of mothers who were infected with the virus while pregnant. Microcephaly is a rare condition where a baby’s head is smaller than expected.

Safranek said even though Nebraska probably won’t see a rash of zika-caused microcephaly anytime soon, people should still take precautions against other mosquito-related illnesses; like West Nile. DHHS’s fight the bite campaign reminds people to eliminate standing water around their homes, wear bug spray, long shirts and pants when outside, and of course, stay inside when mosquitoes are biting.

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