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FOR RELEASE: Aug. 30, 2004
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Oklahoma Reports First Cases of Mosquito-borne Diseases in 2004

The Oklahoma State Department of Health today confirmed that six Oklahomans have tested positive for mosquito-borne illnesses, marking the first human victims for these diseases in 2004.

Three persons have been confirmed for West Nile virus disease, while three others were confirmed as having St. Louis encephalitis, a mosquito-borne illness similar to West Nile virus. One person has died from West Nile virus infection.

“These confirmations of West Nile virus, and its cousin, St. Louis encephalitis, mean all Oklahomans should be on alert and take mosquito-control precautions,” said Interim State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley.

Both West Nile virus (WNV) and St. Louis encephalitis are seasonal infections transmitted in Oklahoma primarily by Culex mosquitoes. These mosquitoes pick up the viruses when they feed on infected birds, and then transmit the viruses when they bite humans, horses and some other mammals.

While the effects of these diseases may be mild in most people, others may develop serious and potentially life-threatening inflammation of the central nervous system (encephalomyelitis) and require intensive hospital care.

The West Nile virus cases were in Nowata, Okmulgee and Delaware counties while the St. Louis encephalitis cases were in Rogers, Oklahoma and Love counties.

St. Louis encephalitis (SLE) was last diagnosed in the state in November 2001, when a man from Cherokee County was hospitalized for severe meningitis and tested positive for antibodies to the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 128 cases of SLE are reported annually in the U.S.

Oklahomans are at risk for acquiring mosquito-borne illnesses at least through October, when the Culex mosquito will wind down its activity.

“The best way to avoid these diseases is to prevent mosquito bites,” said Bradley. She suggested remembering the “4 D’s of Defense” to protect against mosquitoes:

  • Dusk and dawn - Avoid outdoor activities during these prime times for mosquito activity.
  • Dress - Wear long pants and long sleeves when outside to cover the skin.
  • DEET - Use an insect repellent containing DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) when outdoors and reapply according to directions.
  • Drain - Drain those items that collect standing water around your home, yard or business. Scrub and refill pet water dishes and bird baths regularly.

Thus far in Oklahoma this year, 205 birds and eight horses have also tested positive for West Nile virus.

Last year, the number of persons in Oklahoma diagnosed with WNV disease was 79, with no deaths. In 2002, when WNV made its official entrance into the state, 21 human cases of the disease were confirmed with two deaths.

Nationally, CDC confirms that 922 cases of WNV have been reported this year, with 22 deaths.

For more information on West Nile virus, contact your local county health department or visit these Web sites: http://www.health.state.ok.us/program/cdd/ow and http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/index.htm

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