OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma County woman became the first Oklahoman to die of West Nile virus this year, the state Health Department said Thursday.
The woman was 70 to 79 years old and was one of the state’s four recorded cases of the mosquito-borne illness so far in 2013, health officials said. Oklahoma’s first confirmed case was in a female between the ages of 10 and 19 who was diagnosed last month.
The state’s epidemiologist, Dr. Kristy Bradley, said all four confirmed cases have been in Oklahoma County, but that infected mosquitoes also have been detected in Tulsa and Comanche counties.
“We have other surveillance indicators that show there is a risk of exposure to West Nile in other parts of the state,” Bradley said. “They are continuing to find infected mosquitoes.”
The virus thrives in hot and dry weather. Infected mosquitoes were first detected in Oklahoma in late July, and parts of the state are reaching the peak period for West Nile transmission, Bradley said.
She urged Oklahomans to be mindful of the danger of infection and to use mosquito repellant when outdoors, particularly in the early evening and morning hours. She also said people should wear long pants and shirt sleeves and eliminate habitats with standing water where mosquitoes might breed.
The virus was first recorded in Oklahoma in 2002, when 15 cases were confirmed. The number has see-sawed since. It reached a record high for the state last year, when 178 cases were confirmed and 15 people died of the disease.
Common symptoms of the West Nile virus include headache, fever and fatigue. Some people also develop a rash. West Nile virus can cause severe neurologic disease such as meningitis, paralysis and encephalitis. Symptoms include intense headache, dizziness, stiff neck, severe weakness, muscle tremors, confusion and seizures.