More Oklahomans have West Nile than what's reported

Although Oklahoma has had significantly fewer cases of West Nile virus reported this year, the state still has one of the highest rates in the nation. And there are likely more Oklahomans who have contracted the virus than what state health data shows.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: September 26, 2013 at 10:35 pm •  Published: September 27, 2013
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Oklahoma has had one of the highest rates of West Nile virus in the United States this year, even though the nationwide rate is lower than last year.

“We're still considered a hot spot for 2013,” state epidemiologist Kristy Bradley said.

Two residents have died this year from confirmed cases of West Nile, including one Oklahoma County resident and a Garfield County resident. The state Health Department reports 31 confirmed cases of the mosquito-borne virus, although the actual number of people sickened is likely much higher.

Among those 31 cases, 21 people developed West Nile neuroinvasive disease, the more severe version of West Nile that can include meningitis or swollen membranes in the brain and spinal cord, paralysis or encephalitis, swelling and inflammation of the brain.

Bradley said for every one case of West Nile neuroinvasive disease reported, between 30 and 70 people develop less severe cases of the virus that aren't captured by the department's surveillance system.

That could mean between 630 and 1,470 cases of milder West Nile virus haven't been reported, Bradley said, though only 10 cases of the milder form have been confirmed by the state Health Department.

Bradley said neuroinvasive cases are more likely to be reported to the state Health Department, which gathers data throughout Oklahoma, because people with neuroinvasive West Nile illness have more severe symptoms, which often put them in the hospital.


by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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