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FOR RELEASE: July 24, 2003
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

First Avian Cases of West Nile Virus in 2003 Confirmed in Oklahoma

Six birds from as many Oklahoma counties have tested positive for West Nile virus, the Oklahoma State Department of Health confirmed today. These birds follow the first findings of West Nile virus earlier this season in three horses in the state. No human cases of the disease have yet been reported in Oklahoma.

The reported West Nile positive birds and counties of origin include one crow from Carter County and one blue jay each from Beaver, Cleveland, Jackson, Muskogee, and Oklahoma counties. All infected birds were found dead between July 11 and July 15.

“The finding of infected birds through our state surveillance program suggests that higher levels of West Nile virus transmission are now occurring in Oklahoma,” said State Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Kristy Bradley. “Persons who spend time outdoors should take steps to protect themselves from mosquito bites.”

West Nile virus is a seasonal infection transmitted by mosquitoes. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds. West Nile virus can also be transmitted through transplanted organs and transfused blood. Routine West Nile virus screening of blood donations begun July 2003 should greatly reduce the risk of transmittal through blood donations.

To “fight the bite,” health officials suggest three simple action steps:

  • Avoid mosquito bites by covering up bare skin and using insect repellents that contain DEET (N, N diethyl-m-toluamide).
  • Mosquito-proof around your home by emptying standing water, regularly scrubbing and refilling bird baths and pets’ water dishes, and insuring that window screens are in good repair.
  • Avoid being outside during the hours of dawn or dusk, when disease-carrying mosquitoes are most active.

“Persons who find dead birds, particularly crows, blue jays, cardinals and raptors (hawks, owls, or eagles) in their yards should report them to their local county health department,” Bradley said. “Local county health officials are tracking these reports, but West Nile virus testing of dead birds is limited this year to communities in 19 counties that have operational mosquito control programs.”

West Nile virus made its official entrance into Oklahoma last year when 21 human cases of the disease were confirmed with two deaths; 439 birds and 965 horses also tested positive for the virus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about two of every 10 persons who are bitten by an infected mosquito will experience any illness. Serious illness and death are possible, however, particularly for persons over the age of 50.

“Although Oklahomans may be alarmed that West Nile virus is in the state, they can use appropriate precautions to protect themselves from mosquito bites to limit their chances of being infected with West Nile virus or any other mosquito-transmitted disease,” Bradley urged.

Additional information about West Nile virus is available by visiting these
Web sites: http://www.health.state.ok.us/program/cdd/ow/index.html and http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/index.htm.

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