OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Mary Fallin is joining with state and local public health officials to raise awareness of West Nile virus and the steps Oklahomans should take to protect themselves from the mosquito-borne illness.
“West Nile virus is a serious disease that can be life-altering or even fatal,” said Fallin. “Many of our fellow Oklahomans are now hospitalized with West Nile virus. Even though we are early into the season, at least 61 cases and three deaths have been reported in Oklahoma. The best way to prevent West Nile virus is to avoid mosquito bites.”
Fallin urged Oklahomans to “fight the bite” by taking personal precautions to reduce the risk of mosquito bites, including using insect repellent when going outdoors, installing or repairing screens on windows and doors, and emptying standing water from items outside the home like buckets, cans, flower pots, and tires so mosquitoes have no place to breed. Bird baths and outdoor pet water bowls should be emptied and refilled daily and leaves and debris should be cleaned from gutters to ensure they are not clogged.
“This disease has hit Oklahomans hard this year and unfortunately, those who seem to be most at risk are older citizens. If you know persons who might be at particular risk, such as parents or grandparents over age 50, please check with them to make certain they are taking precautions,” Fallin emphasized. “In addition, anyone spending significant time outdoors must also make certain to use insect repellent and carry it with them for reapplication if necessary. Oklahomans are or will soon be gearing up for night-time outdoor activities like high school football games, athletic practices, lakeside camping, gardening and evening jogs. Farmers and those who work outside are particularly susceptible to the disease. Everyone in these circumstances must be sure to take proper precautions.”
Fallin urged those who believe they have contracted West Nile to seek immediate medical attention.
“Symptoms appear within 3 to 15 days after exposure and generally appear flu-like, with head-aches, muscle weakness, fever and nausea all being common. Anyone who suspects themselves of having West Nile virus should immediately contact a doctor.”
West Nile virus is a seasonal epidemic that begins in late summer and continues into the fall. Case activity spikes every three to four years depending on conditions that encourage a higher number of infected mosquitoes. Healthy, active adults who are 50 and older have the highest risk of illness, including neuroinvasive disease, which causes inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. The age range of cases reported among Oklahomans this year is from 12 to 90 years old. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 32 states have West Nile cases.
At least one death has now been reported and 24 new cases of WNV have been confirmed in Oklahoma in the past week.
“Prevention is the key to protection,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Terry Cline. “One bite from an infected mosquito can lead to a severe and possibly life-altering illness. We urge everyone to use insect repellent when outdoors and to mosquito-proof their home as best possible.”
Healthy, active adults who are 50 and older have the highest risk of illness caused by WNV. That’s certainly true in Oklahoma, where most cases have occurred in persons over 40 and have been neuroinvasive WNV disease, the most severe form of WNV infection that causes inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.
While persons who work outdoors in occupations like farming or construction are at risk of getting bitten by an infected mosquito, most Oklahomans with WNV disease believe they were exposed to mosquitoes and WNV while doing activities around their residence, like working in their yards, tending flower beds or relaxing on the patio.
Thus far this year, 55 cases of WNV disease have been confirmed in Oklahomans from 14 counties. The counties with the highest numbers of cases include Tulsa (14), Oklahoma (12), Carter (9), Pittsburg (7), Muskogee (3), and Garfield (2). The age range of cases is 12 to 90 years. Since WNV activity in Oklahoma often does not peak until September or early October, more cases are expected.
Illness associated with WNV ranges from no symptoms at all to milder “West Nile Fever” symptoms to serious neurologic disease. Symptoms of West Nile Fever include sudden onset of fever, headache, nausea, dizziness, and muscle weakness. Sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash are also present with West Nile Fever. Symptoms of serious neurologic WNV disease can progress quickly and may include high fever, headache, stiff neck, mental confusion or disorientation, numbness, convulsions, and coma. A polio-type paralysis of an arm or leg may also be caused by WNV. Some of the neurological effects of WNV may be permanent or fatal. Persons should seek medical attention if any of these symptoms develop, especially within two weeks after mosquito bites.
Oklahomans are urged to “fight the bite” and take the following precautions to protect themselves against mosquito bites:
Use an insect repellent containing DEET on exposed skin and clothing when you go outdoors. (Insect repellent with permethrin should be used on clothing only.)
Place mosquito repellent in a handy and visible location in the home for easy access.
Repair or install window and door screens to keep mosquitoes out of your home.
Prevent items such as buckets, cans, flower pots, and tires from holding standing water so mosquitoes don’t have a place to breed.
Empty, clean and refill your bird baths and pet’s outdoor water bowl daily.
Clean leaves and debris from rain gutters regularly to ensure they are not clogged.
For more information on WNV, including prevention, visit http://ads.health.ok.gov