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FOR RELEASE: July 18, 2002
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

West Nile Virus Confirmed in Oklahoma

The Oklahoma State Department of Health and Tulsa City-County Health Department today confirmed that a crow found in the Tulsa city limits has tested positive for West Nile virus. This is the first detection of the virus in Oklahoma. No human cases have been reported in the state.

A finding of West Nile virus was expected this summer since states bordering Oklahoma, including Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Missouri, had already reported cases of the virus. West Nile virus is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. The virus may cause illness in birds, horses, and humans. It is not spread by person-to-person contact, or by contact with infected animals. Persons who are bitten by infected mosquitoes will usually develop only a mild flu-like illness; less than one percent will develop the more serious complications of encephalitis. Persons over the age of 50 are at higher risk of severe disease.

An increase in dead birds, particularly crows, blue jays, and raptors (hawks, owls, and eagles) is the most visible early warning of the virus. The Oklahoma State Department of Health has initiated a special West Nile virus surveillance program called “On Watch” to encourage the public to report sightings of freshly dead birds. The program provides a toll-free number, 1-800-990-CROW (2769) during regular business hours to report sightings. Callers are asked to give a description of the bird and report where the bird was found. Callers then receive instructions on how to collect and transport those birds determined suitable for testing.

Although the crow that tested positive for West Nile virus was found in the Tulsa vicinity, health officials caution the location where the bird died does not necessarily mean the bird was infected in that same Tulsa location because crows may fly several miles in a single day. In Tulsa County, residents can call a special hotline number, 918-595-4200, to report sightings of dead birds. Staff from the Tulsa City-County Health Department will pick up the bird and submit it for testing. Mosquito trapping and testing has also begun in Tulsa and other locations in the state to enhance West Nile virus monitoring.

State health officials say early control of mosquitoes and preventing mosquito bites are the keys to helping reduce the risk of exposure to West Nile virus. To decrease the opportunities for mosquito bites, health officials suggest limiting outdoor time when there are high levels of mosquito activity, usually in the early morning and at dusk. If you have to go outside, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants and use insect repellents containing DEET. It may also be helpful to wear light-colored clothing and limit use of perfumes and fragranced lotions and shampoos.

To help control the mosquito population around the house and yard, health officials suggest these measures to minimize mosquito-breeding locations:

  • Prevent items such as buckets and tarps from holding standing water.
  • Rinse, scrub and refill birdbaths weekly.
  • Clean fallen leaves and debris from roof gutters.
  • Empty plastic and inflated wading pools at least once a week and store indoors when not in use.
  • Regularly maintain swimming pools and hot tubs.
  • Empty your outdoor pet’s water bowl and refill daily.
  • Store boats covered or upside down.
  • If you have a water garden or ornamental body of water, use an environmentally safe product to kill mosquito larvae, or stock with fish that will eat mosquito larvae.
  • Trim grass and weeds regularly.

For more information on West Nile virus, check out the state health department’s “On Watch” Web site at www.health.state.ok.us.

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