Many Oklahomans will remember in 2007 when the state saw 107 cases of West Nile virus and eight associated deaths.
Over the past few weeks, the state has seen 31 cases of the mosquito-borne illness, more cases than if you added up all reported West Nile disease reports from 2008 to 2011.
“We are concerned that we are currently outpacing 2007,” said Kristy Bradley, state epidemiologist at the state Health Department. “So if we match the frequency of the number of case by week that we (had) in 2007, we may have 200 cases or greater in Oklahoma by the season's end.”
First identified in the U.S. in 1999, West Nile virus is generally spread by the bite of an infected mosquito, according to the state Health Department. West Nile virus season runs from May to November.
Symptoms of the disease range significantly. People who are 50 and older are at the highest risk of developing the more severe symptoms of West Nile. In Oklahoma, most West Nile virus cases this year have occurred in residents older than 40 years of age with 26 percent occurring among people 70 to 79 years old.
‘Really kind of scary'
Bob Matthews is a part of that 26 percent. Before the West Nile struck, the 77-year-old retired Heritage Hall principal was busy living. He was an estate sale aficionado. He was the family cook, known for his shepherd's pie. He had an impressive garden, which the drought has stolen since his illness.
“I was a house nanny, and I loved it,” he said. “And I am ready to get back to it.”
Matthews isn't sure when he was bitten by the mosquito that infected him. A few weeks ago, he started feeling dizzy. After a few visits to the emergency room and a few misdiagnoses, doctors found that Matthews had contracted the West Nile virus.
Up to 20 percent of the people who become infected have symptoms such as fever, headache, and body aches, nausea, vomiting and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms last for a few days, but some become sick for several weeks.
But about one in 150 people infected with West Nile virus develop severe illness, according to the CDC.