SCOTTSBLUFF — St. Louis encephalitis, a virus endemic to Nebraska, has been found in mosquitoes trapped at a site in the Panhandle.
Melissa Cervantes, environmental health coordinator with Panhandle Public Health District, said the virus has made an appearance in the area before, but it’s not as prevalent as the better-known West Nile virus.
“It’s kind of hit or miss if we’ll find St. Louis encephalitis each year,” Cervantes said. “It’s West Nile that we’ll usually find every year.”
In severe cases, St. Louis encephalitis can cause swelling of the brain. But it’s more common to produce symptoms similar to West Nile, which can come and go over years.
Like West Nile, St. Louis encephalitis can cause fever, headache, disorientation and tiredness, especially in older adults and individuals with compromised immune systems. Both viruses are found in birds and then passed along to mosquitos and to humans.
Cervantes said there’s no specific treatment for St. Louis encephalitis. Symptoms can start to develop in five to 15 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
Prevention for both viruses is the same: use a mosquito repellant that contains DEET, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, and take extra precautions when going outdoors, especially at dawn and dusk when mosquitos are most active.
“We urge both parents and students who might be enjoying the football and cross country seasons to take precautions to help reduce the risk of contracting those viruses,” Cervantes said.
Both West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis are carried by the mosquito species Culex tarsalis. Cervantes said that species prefers cooler weather, so they’ve been seeing a bump in those mosquito numbers recently.
The other mosquito species is Aedes albopictus, which carries the Zika virus. It prefers warmer weather, but no infected mosquitoes have been reported in the Panhandle this year.
Remember that both mosquito species will continue to be a threat until the first freeze comes to the region.
For questions or more information on St. Louis encephalitis or West Nile virus, contact Cervantes at 308-487-3600 ext. 108.