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Turpin man may be state's first 2003 case of virus

Updated:

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Health officials are testing a Turpin man for West Nile virus in what may be the state's first case of 2003.

Oklahoma Health Department officials said Tuesday that a 70-year-old Turpin man is being treated for symptoms of the mosquito-borne virus at a Liberal, Kan., hospital.

Blood and spinal fluid samples from the unnamed Beaver County man have been sent to the Kansas Health Department. Test results are expected by the end of the week.

Four birds from Beaver County have tested positive for West Nile and the number of animal cases continues to escalate, said Kristy Bradley, state public health veterinarian.

``The high-risk time is right now,'' Bradley said. ``The situation is definitely heating up.''

At least 10 human cases of West Nile virus have been confirmed in patients from Liberal and surrounding communities, said Darien Leiker, a spokesman for Southwest Medical Center, where the Beaver County man is being treated.

Turpin is less than 15 miles from Liberal.

Patients from Oklahoma and Kansas are being treated for flu-like symptoms that include headache and loss of appetite, Leiker said.

None of the cases appear to be life-threatening, he said.

West Nile first reached Oklahoma last year, when 21 human cases of the disease _ including two deaths _ were confirmed.

This year, 42 dead birds from 10 counties and nine horses from eight counties have tested positive, Bradley said.

None of the horses have died. Last year, West Nile killed 135 Oklahoma horses. Blood samples from nearly 1,000 horses and one zebra tested positive for the virus.

Jackson County in far southwestern Oklahoma has two confirmed cases of the virus in a bird and a horse.

``Unlike last year, cases are popping up in all regions and all quadrants of the state,'' Bradley said.

Last year at this time, there were only cases in Tulsa and other parts of eastern Oklahoma.

``We could experience a real spike in confirmed cases during the next two weeks,'' Bradley said.

Recent rains could make a more serious outbreak likely because mosquitoes breed in standing water.

West Nile virus is transmitted by culex mosquitoes, which become infected when they feed on infected birds. Culex mosquitoes thrive in dry and wet weather.

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