The state Health Department confirmed Tuesday that two more people have died in Oklahoma because of West Nile virus, making this the deadliest year on record for the mosquito-borne illness in the state.
The most recent deaths included a man younger than 65 in Cleveland County and a man older than 65 in Logan County.
Eleven residents have died this year because of the virus, the highest number of West Nile virus-related deaths the state has seen since the virus entered the U.S. in 1999.
Also, the Health Department has confirmed 170 cases of West Nile virus this year, also a record number for Oklahoma.
West Nile virus can cause mild to severe symptoms.
Most people who contract the virus do not develop illness.
However, people older than 50 are at the most risk of developing severe neurological symptoms after contracting the virus.
Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 4,249 cases thus far in 2012, the highest number of West Nile virus disease cases reported to CDC through the second week in October since 2003.
West Nile virus was first identified in the U.S. in 1999. From 2002 through 2011, 327 cases of West Nile virus in humans were reported, and 21 residents died from this virus.
Until this year, 2007 held the record for highest number of West Nile confirmed cases and deaths, with 107 cases reported and nine deaths confirmed, according to the state Health Department.
For the next several weeks, residents still run the risk of contracting the virus, said Lauri Smithee, chief of acute disease service at the state Health Department.
Smithee, an epidemiologist, said it's important to continue using mosquito repellent and wear long-sleeve shirts and pants when going outside.
Also, it's important to remove stagnant water around the home, because it can serve as a mosquito breeding ground.
In Oklahoma, the West Nile season generally runs until mid-November. The Health Department has seen a decline in the number of cases reported since early September, Smithee said.
“Even though we are seeing a decline in the number of cases, we know the virus is still circulating out there,” she said. “People shouldn't let down their guard just because fewer cases are being reported.”