Dead crow found in Tulsa had West Nile virus

Thursday, July 18th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A dead crow found in Tulsa has tested positive for the West Nile virus, the first confirmed case of the disease in Oklahoma, the state Department of Health said Thursday.

The department said no Oklahomans have been infected by the mosquito-spread virus, but people elsewhere have caught the disease. West Nile was expected to reach Oklahoma this summer, after cases were discovered in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Missouri, the department said.

The crow was found July 9 in east Tulsa and was sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for tests, said Gary Cox, director of the Tulsa City-County Health Department. The CDC confirmed West Nile Wednesday night, Cox said.

It is difficult to tell where the crow caught the virus because the birds ``typically have a range of 100 to 150 miles,'' Cox said. That means the crow could have been infected out of state and brought the virus to Oklahoma, he said.

West Nile virus is usually carried by birds, but mosquitoes can transfer the virus from birds to horses or other animals, including humans.

The virus causes flu-like symptoms and, in about 1 percent of human cases, can cause a serious illness that includes encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.

Tulsa health officials have alerted physicians and veterinarians to be watchful for symptoms of West Nile virus in both humans and animals, Cox said. People older than 50 and those whose immune systems have been weakened by other diseases are at the greatest risk of contracting the virus, he said.

``It's a relatively small risk of an actual human being being affected,'' Cox said. ``The odds of dying from West Nile virus will be about one in 4 million, which are pretty small odds. But it can happen, so we want to be proactive.''

The department has stepped up its mosquito spraying, its mosquito trapping and testing programs and initiated a daytime hotline for Tulsans who fear they may have the virus, he said.

West Nile was first discovered in the United States in New York City in 1999, when seven people died and 62 others were hospitalized. It has since spread to the west and south.

Officials in Louisiana this week confirmed four more West Nile infections in humans, bringing that state's total this summer to seven.

The Missouri Health Department Wednesday confirmed that a dead blue jay there had West Nile, the first confirmed case in the Show-Me-State this year. Eight dead crows tested positive for the disease last September and October in St. Louis city and county.

In anticipation of West Nile's arrival, Oklahoma health officials encouraged citizens to report any newly dead birds they find. A citizen called the Tulsa hotline after finding the dead crow last week.