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FOR RELEASE: May 3, 2004
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

West Nile Virus Surveillance for 2004 Launched Today

The Oklahoma State Department of Health launched its 2004 “On Watch” West Nile virus (WNV) surveillance system today. Health officials believe this year’s WNV season could be significant.

In 2003, the number of persons in Oklahoma diagnosed with WNV disease was 79, with no deaths. The 2002 human case count for the state was 21, with two deaths recorded. Nationally in 2003, there were 9,858 human cases; of that number, 2,863 suffered from severe neurological disease and 262 people died. Thus far in 2004, one human case in Ohio has already been reported.

“Now is the time to begin the habit of practicing mosquito control prevention activities around your home and business,” said Interim State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley. She suggested remembering the “4 D’s of Defense” to protect yourself against WNV:

  • 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.

“Communities should also begin to take responsible steps to reduce mosquito
populations in their areas, since the Culex mosquito that spreads WNV is active in the state from now until November,” Bradley advised. “These mosquitoes pick up the virus when they feed on infected birds, and then transmit the virus when they bite humans, horses and some other mammals.”

For the past two seasons, the state health department has funded testing of dead wild birds for WNV at the Oklahoma Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory. Tracking clusters of birds that test positive helps direct community mosquito control interventions, such as larvicide treatment, spraying for adult mosquitoes, and mowing high grass. This year, county health departments in the following 27 counties will accept birds for testing as part of local mosquito control efforts: Beaver, Blaine, Canadian, Carter, Cleveland, Comanche, Garfield, Jackson, Kay, Kingfisher, LeFlore, Lincoln, Logan, McCurtain, McIntosh, Muskogee, Oklahoma, Okmulgee, Ottawa, Pittsburg, Pontotoc, Sequoyah, Texas, Tulsa, Wagoner, Washington, and Woodward.

Not all dead birds will be accepted for testing; priority will be blue jays, crows, cardinals, bluebirds, and birds of prey (hawks, owls, eagles, falcons) because these types of birds are more likely to die from WNV. “Remember that if you find a dead bird in your yard, that does not necessarily mean that you are at higher risk for acquiring WNV than your neighbor,” Bradley advised. “Birds die for a variety of reasons. But if you notice unusual activity, then call your county health department.”

Bradley reminded horse owners to contact their veterinarian for information on how to protect their horses from WNV through vaccination. WNV in horses in Oklahoma declined from 965 in 2002 to 169 in 2003 largely as a result of horse owners following instructions to get their horses vaccinated. A vaccination to prevent WNV in humans is not available.

“We strongly urge the public to be vigilant in their personal efforts to prevent WNV,” Bradley said. “In the short time Oklahoma has experienced WNV, we are finding that the median age for those who get the disease has dropped from age 60 to 48. And more troubling, we are learning that for some who acquire WNV, life-long disabilities may result, including recurrent headaches, difficulty concentrating, chronic fatigue, and paralysis.”

For more information about West Nile virus, 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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