Evidence of a resurgence of West Nile virus (WNV) has state health officials warning Oklahomans to take precautions against the mosquito-borne illness this summer.
“The first WNV case in a Pittsburgh County man and positive mosquito tests in Tulsa County are a reminder that WNV is here and precautions need to be taken to protect against the disease,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley.
Although the past three years have been relatively quiet for WNV in the state, Bradley said early indicators may signal a dramatic rise in Oklahoma cases in 2012. While only one case of WNV was reported in Oklahoma in 2011, 329 cases and 20 deaths have been reported in the state from the disease since 2002. Additionally, health authorities in Texas are reporting an increase in human cases and positive mosquito tests this year.
“July typically marks the beginning of our high risk period for exposure to WNV in Oklahoma. It is also a time when Oklahomans are busy with yard work, participating in outdoor recreational activities, or just relaxing on the patio,” Bradley said. “All of these activities provide possible encounters with WNV-infected mosquitoes, so we want to remind everyone to use insect repellent when outdoors and mosquito-proof their home and yard.”
West Nile virus is spread through the bite of the Culex mosquito, which feeds on infected birds and then transmits the virus when biting humans, horses, and some other mammals. Symptoms of WNV include sudden onset of fever, headache, dizziness, and muscle weakness. Long-lasting complications can include difficulty concentrating, migraine headaches, extreme muscle weakness and tremors, and paralysis of a limb. If one or more of these symptoms develop, especially after suffering mosquito bites within the previous two weeks, a health care provider should be contacted. Persons over the age of 50 are at greatest risk of developing severe neurologic disease from WNV infection. Some of the neurological effects of WNV may be permanent.
Among the precautions to take against mosquito bites are the following:
- Use an insect repellent containing DEET on exposed skin and clothing when you go outdoors, particularly if you are outside between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are more likely to bite. (Insect repellent with permethrin should be used on clothing only.)
- Repair or install window and door screens to keep mosquitoes out of your home.
- Prevent items such as buckets, cans, pool covers, flower pots, and tires from holding standing water so mosquitoes don’t have a place to breed.
- Empty your pet’s outdoor water bowl and refill daily.
- Clean leaves and debris from rain gutters regularly to ensure they are not clogged.
For more information, visit the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s WNV website at http://go.usa.gov/wpz.