State confirms more cases of West Nile virus

Friday, August 23rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma has reported its first horse deaths from West Nile Virus and bird cases of the disease have increased more than 50 percent since last week, the state Health Department said.

Three horses in western Oklahoma have died. The sites of the horse deaths in Texas, Greer and Alfalfa counties surprised officials.

``This certainly is not what we anticipated,'' said Cliff McDonald, a veterinarian with the state Department of Agriculture. ``We thought most of the cases in horses and birds would be in eastern and southeastern Oklahoma, which normally have a high population of mosquitoes.''

Another Texas County horse and one in Carter County were also confirmed as having the disease Thursday.

Last week, authorities reported four horses with the virus in Garfield, Harmon, Texas and Beaver counties.

The disease has been found in the bodies of 71 birds in 16 counties. That is up from 46 reported Aug. 16.

No human cases have been reported in Oklahoma, but Georgia officials said Thursday two men have died from the disease in that state. If confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the deaths would raise the nationwide toll to at least 15 this year and 33 since the virus was first discovered in the United States in 1999.

Of the 269 CDC-confirmed human cases this year, at least 178 of them have been in the coastal South.

Epidemiologists say most of the disease's symptoms are mild and include fever, headache, backache and muscle weakness that lasts less than a week. Most people bitten by infected mosquitoes will not show any symptoms and only one percent of those who do will develop encephalitis, officials say.

Kristy Bradley, an Oklahoma assistant epidemiologist, said the disease is expected to peak next month and cases should begin dropping off as the weather turns cooler.

Counties in Oklahoma with confirmed cases now include Tulsa with 19; Wagoner, 15; Ottawa, 11; Oklahoma, 7; Pittsburg, 3; Cleveland, 3; Jackson, 2; Muskogee,2; and Payne, 2. Single cases have been confirmed in Carter, Garfield, Haskell, Logan, Mayes, Okmulgee and Rogers counties.

Along with the latest count of West Nile cases, the state Health Department renewed its warnings to property owners about removing sources of standing water such as bird baths and pet water dishes where mosquitoes can spawn.

People are also encouraged to stay inside during the early morning and early evening hours when mosquitoes are most likely to be out. Wearing long sleeves, long pants and insect repellent with DEET is also helpful, officials say.