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FOR RELEASE: November 29, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn

West Nile Virus Surveillance Update

Oklahoma's wintry weather has put an end to the mosquito season and the Oklahoma State Department of Health's (OSDH) surveillance for West Nile Virus (WNV) until next spring. The OSDH has issued a summary of its "On Watch" program initiated in August to track the spread of WNV.

Health officials report more than 400 calls were placed to the statewide WNV hotline, 1-800-990-CROW. Callers reported sick or dead birds, especially crows, blue jays, or raptors (hawks, owls and eagles), which are most likely to become sick with WNV. If the reported birds met the criteria for testing, callers received instructions on how and where to take the bird specimens for testing.

WNV is transmitted by infected mosquitoes to birds, horses, and sometimes, humans. Dead birds, especially crows and blue jays, are the most visible indicators that the virus is in the state. Horses are also prone to WNV infection.

The "On Watch" program has tested 128 birds for WNV, including 24 crows and 104 other types of birds. All birds tested negative for WNV. In addition to the birds tested, 17 horses, eight mosquito pools and seven humans were tested for WNV and all were negative.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, WNV is rapidly expanding its range from the northeast United States where the first cases of this disease were detected in 1999. WNV activity has now been reported in 26 states, including two states bordering Oklahoma - Arkansas and Louisiana. During 2001, 46 human cases of WNV encephalitis or meningitis were confirmed in nine states; four persons died.

The OSDH will resume its WNV surveillance and education program in the early spring. Health officials expect extra vigilance and surveillance will be needed in 2002 since WNV is expected to cross Oklahoma's borders and be a disease to contend with next mosquito season.


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