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FOR RELEASE: June 20, 2002
CONTACT: Dick Gunn

Oklahomans “On Watch” for West Nile Virus

West Nile virus, which was confirmed last year as close as Arkansas and Louisiana, is knocking on Oklahoma’s door, causing Oklahoma public health officials to heighten surveillance efforts this season to rapidly detect introduction of the virus into the state.

Previously only a threat in foreign countries, West Nile virus made its first appearance in the United States during the summer of 1999. West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes and has made a rapid march through 27 Eastern states sickening birds, horses, and people. Detecting West Nile virus, however, requires some unique approaches to disease surveillance and the assistance of the general public.

In states that have experienced West Nile virus, observations of dead birds-especially crows and blue jays-have proven to be an early warning that the virus was circulating there. As part of Oklahoma’s “On Watch” program, a toll-free number, 1-800-990-CROW (2769) is available for Oklahomans to report sightings of dead birds. If residents see a dead crow, blue jay, or raptor (hawk, owl, or eagle), they are urged to call the “On Watch” hotline during regular business hours. Callers will be asked to give a description of the bird and report where the bird was found. If the bird is suitable for West Nile virus testing, they will receive instructions on how to collect and transport the bird carcass.

“Over 200 birds have been tested for West Nile virus in Oklahoma and all have tested negative. To date, no West Nile virus infections in humans or animals have been reported in Oklahoma. However, we are expecting that the disease will be confirmed in Oklahoma this year, since it has been found in states on our eastern border,” said State Health Veterinarian Dr. Kristy Bradley.

West Nile virus is a type of arbovirus that naturally cycles between birds and mosquitoes. Occasionally, infected mosquitoes may bite horses or people. Common symptoms of human infections with West Nile virus are fever, headache, muscle weakness, and nausea. Most persons will recover fully without treatment, but sometimes the infection can progress to life-threatening conditions of encephalitis or meningitis (inflammation of the central nervous system). Persons older than 50 years of age are more likely to suffer severe health consequences if they become infected with West Nile virus. Symptoms of encephalitis are characterized by seizures, coma and paralysis. Infected horses may be similarly affected.

Mosquito Control Now is Important

“Although peak activity of West Nile virus occurs during the months of July through October, early control of mosquitoes is key to reducing risk of exposure to the disease. We are encouraging residents to take appropriate steps to reduce mosquito breeding sites in local communities and around individual homes,” Dr. Bradley said. “It is also important that persons, especially the elderly, begin using personal protective measures to ward off mosquito bites.”

Tips to practice mosquito control around the house and yard:

  • Prevent items such as buckets, tarps, and other items from holding standing water.
  • Rinse, scrub, and refill birdbaths weekly.
  • Regularly clean fallen leaves and debris from roof gutters.
  • Empty plastic wading pools at least once a week and store indoors when not in use.
  • Properly maintain swimming pools.
  • Empty your outdoor pet's water bowl and refill daily.
  • Store boats covered or upside down.
  • If you have a water garden or ornamental body of water, use an environmentally safe product to kill the larvae, or stock with fish that eat mosquito larvae.
  • Trim grass and weeds and dismantle brush to deprive mosquitoes of a habitat.
  • Fogging or spraying your yard with insecticide is not recommended since beneficial insects may be killed, causing other harmful insects to multiply.

For more information about West Nile Virus see the following web sites:


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