West Nile Virus Headed To Oklahoma

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West Nile Virus Headed To Oklahoma

Statewide Survillance Project Announced

OKLAHOMA CITY, 6:19 p.m. CDT August 10, 2001 -- Mosquitos carrying a virus that can kill humans are heading toward Oklahoma, officials said.

About 1 percent of humans bitten by mosquitos infected with the West Nile virus become severely ill and can die, state Health Department officials said.

The virus also can kill horses.

The threat of the virus prompted the state Agriculture Department to announce the emergency approval by federal regulators of a new vaccine to protect horses. Up to 40 percent of infected horses die from the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that West Nile Virus (WNV) is expanding into the southern and western U.S. from the northeast.

Primarily a wild bird disease, West Nile encephalitis is a viral disease that can only transmitted to people through the bite of an infected mosquito. It is not spread through contact with the birds, officials said, and cannot be spread person to person.

To date, no WNV infections in humans or animals have been reported in Oklahoma.

"The health department and community partners have been preparing for this program since last year to implement a plan that includes surveillance, public education and mosquito control. County health departments will be prepared to respond to the WNV if and when it reaches Oklahoma," State Health Commissioner Dr. Leslie Bewitch said.

Dead birds are the primary and most visible indicators that the virus is in the state. Crows and blue jays are especially sensitive to the virus and have a high mortality rate. Horses are also prone to WNV infection.

Eighty-two people in the U.S. have become severely ill with West Nile Virus and nine have died.

While most people who are infected with the disease do not get sick, a small proportion of people -- mostly those over age 50 -- may become ill with symptoms of encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord).

"Even in areas where the disease has been reported, less than one percent of mosquitoes are infected and less than one percent of people bitten by an infected mosquito will become severely ill," Bewitch said.

The WNV has been found in 80 bird species and eight mammal species so far. Prior to August 1999, WNV had never been reported in the Western Hemisphere.

The Oklahoma Department of Health has established a Web site that allows the public to help track WNV surveillance efforts in Oklahoma.

The public is encouraged to call 1 (800) 990-CROW to report sick or dead crows, blue jays, hawks, owls and eagles, and to get information on transporting and testing the birds.

Animal industry services staff at the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture will answer calls placed on the “On Watch” hotline. Residents of Tulsa County who wish to report a dead bird sighting should call (918) 595-4200.

If the reported bird meets the criteria for WNV testing, callers will receive instructions on how and where to take bird specimens.

Ideally, bird specimens should be double-bagged in trash bags and placed in a refrigerator or container with ice to slow decomposition, the department said.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), August 10, 2001

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