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FOR RELEASE: August 8, 2003
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Oklahoma Reports First Human Case of West Nile Virus for 2003

The Oklahoma State Department of Health today announced the state’s first confirmed human case of West Nile virus infection for 2003.

Tests conducted at the state health department’s Public Health Laboratory confirm that the case is a 29-year-old Tulsa County man who was hospitalized late last month with West Nile meningitis and is now home recovering from his illness.

State health officials are waiting on the results of confirmatory tests on two additional suspect West Nile virus cases: a 70-year-old Beaver County man and a 47-year-old man from Okmulgee County.

West Nile virus made its official entrance into Oklahoma in 2002 with 21 human cases confirmed and two deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this year’s West Nile virus season is shaping up to include more cases in a much broader distribution among states; 164 human cases have now been confirmed in 16 states. Colorado alone is reporting 72 cases, compared to a total of 14 reported for that state in 2002.

Thus far in Oklahoma, 56 birds and 9 horses have tested positive for West Nile virus. The virus is transmitted through the bite of the Culex mosquito that has picked up the virus by feeding on an infected bird. These mosquitoes pass the virus to humans. 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. The season is expected to continue through October when the Culex mosquito will wind down its activity.

“We are not surprised by this first human case this year,” said Dr. Kristy Bradley, Oklahoma State Public Health Veterinarian. “We’ve known that the virus has been in the state since last summer, so we hope the public will not panic, and instead, be reminded that regardless of where they live, they should take personal precautions to protect themselves from mosquito bites.”

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 birdbaths and pets’ water dishes, and ensuring that window screens are in good repair.
  • Avoid being outside during the hours of dawn or dusk, when disease-carrying mosquitoes are most active.

West Nile virus can also be transmitted through transplanted organs and transfused blood from persons with the virus. A new blood screening process initiated July 1st should reduce the risk of transmittal through blood donations.

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 officials who will track these reports. Actual West Nile virus testing of dead birds is limited to communities in 21 counties that have ongoing mosquito control programs.

For more information about West Nile virus visit 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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