A tropical mosquito originally from Africa capable of carrying the Zika virus, yellow fever and other tropical diseases was detected for the first time in Nebraska, after it was caught late last month in a York County trap.
State health officials had been watching for the Aedes aegypti — a small black mosquito with white stripes on its back and legs — which has already established itself in parts of Kansas, Missouri and most of the southern stretches of the U.S.
But they were still surprised to find it this far north. “It was a shock,” Dr. Tom Safranek, the state’s epidemiologist, said Tuesday. “It’s a big surprise.”
After they identified the first few Aedes aegypti in a trap as part of the state’s routine mosquito-monitoring program, they set out more traps — and found more specimens.
The insects were likely imported, hatching from eggs that had been attached to something that was brought to York County.
“The way these things spread are people moving objects around from place to place,” said Jeff Hamik, the state’s public health entomologist. “That’s how they get established in a place initially.”
The risk of the mosquito transmitting deadly diseases is low, Safranek said. It would have to bite someone already infected, and then bite someone who wasn’t. And Nebraska doesn’t have a large population of people suffering from yellow fever, the Zika virus, chikungunya or dengue.
But it’s plausible someone who was infected could travel to the state, so it’s something to take seriously, he added.
Unlike native mosquitoes, the Aedes aegypti bites primarily in the daytime. It also feeds only on people and can’t fly far — only about 500 feet — before dying.
The discovery was announced Tuesday at the York County Commission meeting, during a routine report by the regional health director.