Three more Oklahomans have died from West Nile virus, according to state Health Department figures released Thursday.
Two Oklahoma County residents — a man older than 80 and a woman older than 60 — and an Ellis County man older than 80 have died from complications related to West Nile virus, bringing the state's total number of West Nile deaths to five this year.
Also, 38 people have been sickened by the virus, with 25 of them hospitalized.
By this time last year, the state Health Department had confirmed 155 cases of West Nile virus and nine deaths in Oklahoma.
West Nile virus is thought to be cyclical, with the number of cases peaking every three to four years. Oklahoma has seen some of that pattern in outbreaks, with the highest number of West Nile cases reported in 2003, 2007 and 2012. From 2008 to 2011, the state reported 20 cases and one death.
The virus is spread when a person is bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus. Rarely, West Nile virus also has been spread through blood transfusions.
About 80 percent of people who contract the virus never become sick. Of those who become sick, most will have a mild illness called West Nile fever that lasts two to 10 days.
Common symptoms of West Nile fever include headache, fever and tiredness, according to the state Health Department. Some people might also develop a rash.
In some cases, West Nile virus can cause severe neurological diseases such as meningitis, or swollen membranes in the brain and spinal cord; paralysis, or loss of muscle function; or encephalitis, which is swelling and inflammation of the brain.
Public health officials urge residents to use mosquito repellent while outside and clear homes of standing water, which can serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes.