OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma State Department of Health reports two more deaths due to the West Nile virus this week.
The department said Thursday that the virus has now claimed three lives in the state. The latest two deaths happened this week in Oklahoma and Seminole counties. The previous death was in Oklahoma County.
The department says there have been 61 confirmed cases of the virus with 39 of those being the most serious form — called neuro-invasive.
State epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley says the neuro-invasive cases cause inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.
The symptoms include an inability to walk, mental confusion and disorientation. Some are unable to speak, may lose vision or hearing or suffer paralysis of their legs or arms.
Governor 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.