The year’s first case of West Nile virus in Oklahoma was confirmed Thursday, leading health officials to ask residents to take precautions against mosquitoes when spending time outdoors.
State epidemiologist Kristy Bradley said it is especially important for residents with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, to wear mosquito repellent.
“Since those are very prevalent chronic conditions among Oklahomans, this is a little special warning to people with those health conditions to be extra careful about using mosquito bite precautions when they’re outdoors,” Bradley said.
The resident who contracted West Nile is in Major County, is older than 50 and was hospitalized, which is the only information about the patient released by the state Health Department.
Last year, 84 cases of West Nile were confirmed among Oklahoma residents, including eight residents who died. Meanwhile, in 2012, the state saw 176 cases and 15 deaths, the worst West Nile season the state has on record.
Although the severity of each year’s West Nile season cannot be predicted, it usually runs from July through October.
West Nile virus is spread through the bite of the culex mosquito, which feeds on infected birds and transmits the virus when biting people, horses and some other mammals, according to the health department.
Symptoms include sudden onset of fever, headache, dizziness and muscle weakness. Long-lasting complications can include difficulty concentrating, migraine headaches, extreme muscle weakness and tremors and paralyzed limbs.
People older than 50 are at greatest risk of developing severe neurological disease from West Nile. Some of the neurological effects can be permanent.
Bradley said although public health researchers cannot predict where West Nile will be prevalent, the virus activity in Oklahoma could have a pattern.
Major County is in northwestern Oklahoma, which hasn’t seen high West Nile activity in a few years, she said. With drought and high temperatures, it’s possible that region could see more West Nile this year, she said.
“Certainly, any area of Oklahoma could have mosquitoes that are carrying West Nile virus, but we do see sort of a special distribution of the virus — that certain areas of the state seem to be impacted more in certain years,” Bradley said.