CNHI News Service
A case of West Nile virus confirmed in Pittsburg County is one of only two cases found statewide so far this year. The other case is in Tulsa County.
“Right now, it’s the only two counties we’re aware of,” said Becky Coffman, an epidemiologist at the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
The individual with the confirmed case of West Nile virus in Pittsburg County has been identified by the health department only as a man “in the age 65 or older category,” Coffman said.
While it’s not unheard of to have cases of West Nile virus found in Oklahoma in July, it is still early in the season, noted Pittsburg County Health Department Administrator Mike Echelle.
With only one case of West Nile virus reported in the entire state in 2011, the number of confirmed cases in Oklahoma has already doubled when compared to last year.
“We’re certainly wanting people to be warned about West Nile,” Echelle said.
Citing privacy concerns, Coffman said the health department would not release what part of Pittsburg County the man who has a confirmed case of West Nile virus is from, or even if he’s still in the hospital.
“West Nile virus is a virus that’s prevalent in our county,” Echelle said. “We’re going to have to contend with it every year. Individuals need to take precautions.”
In the decade that’s passed since confirmation that the illness had spread to Oklahoma in 2002, there have been 329 cases of the illness and 20 deaths reported in the state, according to the health department.
West Nile virus is spread by the bite of the Culex mosquito. The mosquito feeds on birds infected with the virus and then transmits the virus by biting humans, horses, as well as some other mammals, a health department report stated.
One of the best protections is prevention, according to health officials.
“The most dangerous time to be out is at dusk and dawn,” Coffman said.
“If you’re out at dusk or dawn, wear long sleeves.”
Use a mosquito or insect repellent that contains DEET, Echelle advised. Insect repellent with permethrin should be used on clothing only, according to the health department.
Coffman also urged individuals to make sure there is no free-standing water around, such as in containers, cans, buckets or even disposable cups.
Also make sure window screens are in good repair, Coffman added — meaning make sure there are no openings big enough for mosquitoes to crawl through.
For those who have bird baths, ornamental ponds, fountains, or other items with water, a larvicide is available from most home improvement stores, according to Echelle and Coffman. The larvicides are designed to get rid of the mosquito larvae, but animals and birds can still drink the water, they said.
Leaves and other debris should be regularly cleared from rain gutters to make sure they are not clogged, health personnel advised.
Referring to the steps to reduce the threat of standing water and other precautions, Coffman said every resident should be doing this.
“These mosquitoes don’t fly great distances,” she said.
Those who are aged 50 or older face the greatest danger of complications from West Nile virus, according to the health department.
The strongest symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, headache, dizziness, and muscle weakness, according to information from the health department. More long-lasting complications can include difficulty concentrating, migraine headaches, extreme muscle weakness and tremors, and paralysis of a limb, the health department stated.
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.
“If you have an illness, with a fever, mention it to the doctor if there are mosquito bites,” Coffman advised.
With individuals over the age of 50 at greatest risk of developing severe neurologic disease from WNV infection, some of the neurological effects may be permanent, according to the health department.
While some may experience strong symptoms, others may not.
“It has a wide spectrum, from no symptoms at all, to light symptoms to those as severe as the flu,” Coffman said.
The strongest symptoms can be neuro invasive,” she said.
While no vaccination is available for humans, there are vaccines for horses, mules and donkeys.
“Horses, mules and donkeys are highly susceptible to West Nile,” Echelle said.
Those who own horses or the other equine animals may want to contact their veterinarian regarding vaccinations, Echelle advised.
Coffman said some experts are attributing the confirmation of cases of West Nile virus so early in the season to the fact that Oklahoma had such a mild winter.