Los Angeles and Orange counties this week both reported their first deaths from West Nile virus for the year.
The L.A. County man who died was in his 60s and lived in the San Fernando Valley. He had pre-existing medical conditions and was hospitalized at the time of his death. Public health officials could not release more information about the case, citing privacy concerns.
The Orange County woman was a Seal Beach resident in her 80s. She also had medical issues, and died last week following complications from a more severe form of the disease, West Nile neuroinvasive disease.
The California Department of Public Health reported 129 cases of West Nile virus statewide as of Tuesday. The state reported six deaths as of Tuesday, not including the two recently reported in Southern California.
Orange County, which leads the state in West Nile virus infections, has reported 53 cases for the year as of Wednesday. L.A. County has reported 20 infections as of Thursday. At this point last year, there were 70 reported West Nile virus infections in L.A. County. In Orange County, there were fewer than five infections around this time in the previous year.
Health officials emphasize that the number of West Nile virus infections is larger than what's reported, since most people feel nothing, or experience mild symptoms, and do not seek medical care.
The virus is transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes. Most people are at low risk for serious illness from West Nile virus. But the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems, face a greater chance of developing severe symptoms, which may require hospitalization.
To prevent mosquito bites and exposure to West Nile virus, health officials recommend using insect repellant, especially at dawn and dusk. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, so officials also say to drain stagnant water from flowerpots, rain gutters and unused pools.