Nebraska Health Officials Warn Mosquito That Can Carry Zika, Dengue and Yellow Fever Has Been Discovered in State for First Time

A species of mosquito that can carry the Zika virus, dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya has been identified in Nebraska for the first time, according to state health officials.

On Tuesday, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) said it had documented Aedes aegypti mosquitoes—which are mainly found in tropical climates—in York County.

The mosquitoes were captured during an annual research mission—conducted by the DHHS and local collaborators—aimed at monitoring the number of mosquitoes that can transmit West Nile Virus in the state.

While A. aegypti can carry tropical diseases, health officials stress that the risk of transmission in Nebraska remains low.

"A. aegypti can carry and transmit various diseases that can have serious health consequences like Zika virus, chikungunya, dengue and yellow fever, and that is of concern to public health officials," Tom Safranek, State Epidemiologist for the DHHS, said in a statement.

"However, it's unlikely that the mosquitoes will be infected with these viruses," Safranek said in a statement provided to Newsweek. "Transmission would require a person currently infected with the disease to be bitten by an Aedes aegypti mosquito and then that mosquito would have to bite an uninfected person. None of those diseases are endemic to Nebraska. The risk to local residents is low but not zero and depends on the presence or arrival of an infected individual in the area."

According to health officials, A. aegypti—which has a flying range of about 500 feet—tends to feed in the daytime and has a preference for biting humans. Only the females feast on blood, which they use to provide their eggs with nutrients as they mature.

The species originated in the tropical regions of Africa. However, it is now considered to be one of the most widespread mosquitoes, taking up residence in subtropical and temperate regions around the world. As the world warms in the face of climate change, the species' range is only expected to extend further northwards and southwards.

"It was somewhat of a surprise to find the Aedes aegypti this far north," Safranek told Newsweek. "We have found other invasive mosquito species through our mosquito surveillance (Aedes albopictus and Aedes japonicus) program but these species are more acclimated to temperate climates like Nebraska's. So discovering a mosquito that is usually associated warmer locations further south in the U.S. and in tropical areas was quite a surprise."

The mosquitoes have not yet been tested to see whether they are carrying the viruses that cause these diseases, according to health officials.

The DHHS issued the following guidelines for preventing mosquito bites:

  • Many prevention methods that work for other types of mosquitoes also apply to the A. aegypti including:
  • Dumping or draining any standing water around the home. Standing water and warm weather breed mosquitoes.
  • Throw away containers or objects that can hold water or cover them to prevent water from accumulating inside.
  • Wear mosquito repellent when you go outside. Repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535 and some lemon eucalyptus, and para-menthane-diol products.
  • Dress in long-sleeved shirts, pants and socks when you're outside.
Aedes aegypti mosquito
An Aedes aegypti mosquito is photographed in a laboratory at the University of El Salvador, in San Salvador, on February 3, 2016. MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images