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FOR RELEASE: August 1, 2002
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
405/271-5601

More Avian Cases of West Nile Virus Confirmed in Oklahoma

Nine birds collected from five Oklahoma counties have tested positive for West Nile virus, the Oklahoma State Department of Health confirmed today. These birds follow the first finding of West Nile virus in the state when a crow from Tulsa County was confirmed positive on July 18.

All birds tested positive for infection with West Nile virus at the Oklahoma Animal Diagnostic Disease Laboratory in Stillwater. Follow-up confirmatory testing was performed on five of the birds by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Fort Collins, Colorado.

The counties reporting positive birds now include: Tulsa, 5; Wagoner, 2; Okmulgee, 1; Pittsburg, 1; and Carter, 1. No human or equine cases of West Nile disease have been identified in Oklahoma, but illness in people or horses frequently follows finding the virus activity in birds and mosquitoes.

State health officials had stepped up their “On Watch” surveillance program for West Nile virus following the virus’s confirmation in the state and Oklahomans responded very favorably to the appeals for dead bird reporting. From July 15 through July 26, the Oklahoma Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory received 271 birds with 191 birds being suitable for testing, including 59 crows or blue jays and 132 other types of birds. Dead birds, especially crows, blue jays and raptors (hawks, owls and eagles), are the most visible indicators for the virus.

Persons who find freshly dead birds can call a toll-free number, 1-800-990-CROW (2769) during regular business hours to report their sightings. In Tulsa County, residents can call a special hotline number, 918-595-4200, to report sightings of dead birds. Callers are asked to give a description of the bird and report where the bird was found. If the bird is suitable for testing, the caller will be asked to transport the bird to the nearest drop-off point. Health officials have also begun mosquito trapping and testing in locations around the state to enhance their West Nile virus monitoring.

West Nile virus is spread from 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.

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 and regular surveillance updates, check out the state health department’s “On Watch” Web site at www.health.state.ok.us.

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