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West Nile Virus Remains Threat in State, says Oklahoma City-County Health Department
Samples of mosquitoes in Oklahoma have tested positive for West Nile Virus.
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OKLAHOMA CITY- The Oklahoma City-County Health Department (OCCHD) public health protection experts confirmed Monday that several samples of mosquitoes in the state tested positive for carrying West Nile Virus.

The West Nile virus is an arthropod-borne virus, known as an arbovirus, most commonly spread by infected mosquitoes. The virus can cause numerous serious health problems ranging from encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), meningitis or febrile illness.

Most people are infected with the West Nile virus after being bitten by an infected mosquito, which in turn become infected after feeding on infected birds. The mosquitos pass the virus on to humans and other animals, though in a small number of cases, West Nile has been spread through organ transplants, blood transfusions and from mother to baby during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

For the OCCHD health experts, the discovery of infected mosquitos means Oklahomans should be proactive in preventing the breeding of mosquitoes on their property.

“The recent rain and warmer weather provide a favorable environment for mosquitoes to carry the virus,” said OCCHD Public Health Protection Director Phil Maytubby. “A few basic steps like removing any sources of stagnant water in flower pots, pet bowls, chimineas, old tires, wheelbarrows, birdbaths and even kid’s toys will cut down on the mosquito population. Survey your property after a rain to get rid of mosquito habitats.”

The West Nile virus was first detected in North America in 1999 and has since spread across the U.S. and Canada.

Depending on a variety of factors - like rainfall amounts and heat - West Nile virus could become an issue in Oklahoma again.



Oklahoma is no stranger to the West Nile Virus, but in 2016, no Oklahoma resident died from the disease, despite confirmation of nearly 30 cases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of January 17, a total of 47 states and the District of Columbia have reported West Nile virus infections in people, birdsor mosquitoes in 2016.

Overall, 2,038 cases of West Nile virus disease in people were reported to CDC, and of these, 1,140 (56 percent) were classified as neuroinvasive disease (such as meningitis or encephalitis) and 898 (44 percent) were classified as non-neuroinvasive disease.

In 2016, Oklahoma had 17 neuroinvasive disease West Nile cases, 12 non-neuroinvasive cases, 29 total cases and zero deaths.

According to Maytubby, Oklahoma County only recorded seven cases of West Nile virus in 2016.

“This year, we had three test sites test positive for West Nile, but we are off to a typical start,” he said. “It’s too early to tell (if it will be a bad year for West Nile). It depends on rainfall and heat.”

While 2016 saw lower heat and rainfall numbers, thus reducing the prevalence of the mosquito-borne disease, years like 2012 proved a direct correlation between rainfall amounts, heat, and the virus. Oklahoma had more than 20 days of over 100-degree heat in 2012.

“We had people die from West Nile in 2012,” said Maytubby.

Most people - 70 to 80 percent - who become infected with West Nile virus never develop symptoms, but approximately one in five will develop a fever with other symptoms like joint pain, vomiting, rash and diarrhea and the fatigue and weakness can last for weeks and months.

Less than 1 percent of those infected will develop a serious neurologic illness such as encephalitis or meningitis, which can cause high fever, tremors, seizures, paralysis and coma. People over the age of 60 and those with medical conditions like cancer, kidney disease, and hypertension are at the greatest risk for severe illness. About 10 percent of people who develop neurologic infection due to West Nile virus will die.

Although no vaccine or antiviral treatments exist for West Nile infections, over-the-counter pain relievers can reduce fever and symptoms. In more severe cases, patients may be hospitalized.



Health experts at the OCCHD said residents should place microbial larvicides also known as dunks in standing water that cannot be drained. Dunks kill larvae before they emerge as adult mosquitoes and can be found at most hardware stores.

Other recommendations include draining standing water on the property, using insect repellant containing DEET when outside, dressing in long sleeves and pants that have been sprayed with repellent and making sure window screens are secure.

By not being proactive, Oklahomans put themselves at risk for mosquito-borne illness, Maytubby said. WNV is the most common mosquito-borne disease in Oklahoma and can pose a lethal threat, especially to senior citizens.

“Those little things you do work,” said Maytubby. “We are trying to get people to get ahead of the problem by taking certain measures. Mosquitos have been around a lot longer than we have. We try to reduce the population, but sometimes it’s not up to us. Mosquitos are the most organism in the world.”

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Heide Brandes

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