The Oklahoma State Department of Health warned all Oklahomans today to do what they can to avoid mosquito bites or face increased risk of West Nile virus. 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.