Oklahoma woman reportedly dies after contracting West Nile Virus


SHAWNEE, Okla. (KFOR) – It is a sad reminder of the potential consequences of the West Nile Virus.

Over the weekend, Paula Stearman’s husband of 45 years let us know his wife died of the virus after a two-week illness in Shawnee.

While the family is grieving and did not want to go on camera at this time, he did ask that viewers are reminded of the dangers of this virus.

If you’ve spent a spring, summer or fall outdoors in Oklahoma, you’ve likely dealt with the bites of mosquitos. But there are additional West Nile symptoms you need to look for.

“It can have very mild symptoms but some people will get what we call encephalitis, which is mental status changes, extremely sore neck, fever. They can have hemorrhaging and it can really affect any system in your body,” said Dr. Melinda Cail, with Primary Health Partners in Edmond.

Cail says the effects can range from mild symptoms to lifelong impacts or sadly, even death.

“Treatment is mostly just supportive, meaning we just give people fluids and pain management and keep them alive until their body can heal itself,” she said.

According to the CDC, around one in five people infected with the virus develop symptoms.

Only about one in 150 develop a serious or fatal infection.

While Paula Stearman’s death occurred in Shawnee, in Pottawatomie County, KFOR has recently reported that West Nile Virus has been detected in Oklahoma County.

“We do usually test mosquitoes from early May to about the first hard freeze, which is usually around the second or third week of October,” said Tre Williams, with the Oklahoma City-County Health Department.

Williams says the testing of mosquitoes provides a warning that it’s present in the county. The testing in humans can help identify the virus that’s commonly mistaken for another.

“If a person is tested for West Nile, that’s how we typically find out about it but having flu-like symptoms can be a little tricky,” said Williams. 

KFOR has reported on the 4D’s to keep mosquitoes away frequently:

  • Drain standing water on your property
  • Use insect repellent that contains DEET
  • Stay inside at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are out the most
  • Dress in long sleeves and pants and use repellent on your clothes.

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