Getting ready for the West Nile virus in Tulsa County

Thursday, May 1st 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SARS is the second emerging virus to affect Tulsa in a year. Last year two Oklahomans died from complications of West Nile virus.

21 others were infected with the mosquito-borne illness. As News on Six anchor Tami Marler explains, public health experts expect to see more cases as temperatures rise.

Tulsa County has spent tens of thousands of dollars beefing up efforts to fight a virus that caused unprecedented public anxiety. "The highest number of mosquito calls or complaints for spring we've ever gotten has been 4,600. Last year, in 10 weeks, we received almost 30,000 complaints." John Baker with the Tulsa City-County Health Department says those 30,000 complaints came from people who wanted county trucks to spray their neighborhoods for mosquitoes, the transmitters of West Nile Virus.

Nearly 30 years in public health and he's never seen anything like it. “This is still a new, emerging disease. We still are learning more and more about it each year, so we just want to keep our eyes open." Last year, the county tried to keep up with demand by spraying the areas where, either they received the most complaints, or found the most dead birds, which carry the deadly virus.

This year, Baker says the plan will be organized in two stages. "The first stage would be using our two to three trucks, probably starting in late May through June." Baker says the mosquitoes that carry West Nile, started showing up last year in July. So in "stage 2" this year, five county trucks will blanket the city, two or three times a month, through September. You can still call the health department hotline to request spraying in your neighborhood, just call 595-4219.

But there are steps you can take to protect yourself, right now. "Bird baths can become a problem. They should be flushed out at least 2 or 3 times a week. Be sure that pet dishes, water dishes are cleaned possibly every day with fresh water. And constantly look in the backyard for any source of standing water.”

The best way to avoid West Nile is to kill mosquitoes before the females become biting adults, by taking away their breeding ground.

John Baker tells us, a 5-gallon container, half-full of water. can produce a thousand mosquitoes within ten days.