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LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) — U.S. health officials reported Wednesday three times the usual number of West Nile cases for this time of year and one expert called it “one of the largest” outbreaks since the virus appeared in this country in 1999.
Antelope Valley resident, James Brockway, and a 24-year-old woman from Fontana are reportedly hospitalized Wednesday after being diagnosed with West Nile Virus.
The Fontana resident is the first human case of the virus in San Bernardino County this year.
So far, 1,118 illnesses have been reported in the U.S., about half of them in Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been 26 reported cases in California, two victims were reported in Studio City earlier this week. In an average year, fewer than 300 cases are reported nationwide by mid-August.
There have also been 41 reported deaths in the U.S. this year. An 88-year-old Kern County woman, the first reported death in California, died in early August.
“We’re in the midst of one of the largest West Nile outbreaks ever seen in the United States,” said Dr. Lyle Petersen of the CDC.
Never before have so many illnesses been reported this early, said Petersen, who oversees the CDC’s mosquito-borne illness programs.
Most infections are usually reported in August and September, so it’s too early to say how bad this year will end up, CDC officials said.
They think the mild winter, early spring and very hot summer have fostered breeding of mosquitoes that pick up the virus from birds they bite and then spread it to people.
The California Department of Public Health said in a news release, the public is encouraged to report dead birds and squirrels to authorities. Unclean pools should also be reported to the county’s vector control programs.
West Nile virus was first reported in the U.S. in 1999 in New York, and gradually spread across the country. It peaked in 2002 and 2003, when severe illnesses reached nearly 3,000 and deaths surpassed 260. Last year was mild with fewer than 700 cases.
Only about one in five infected people get sick. One in 150 infected people will develop severe symptoms including neck stiffness, disorientation, coma and paralysis.
In recent years, cases have been scattered across the country. Hot spots are usually in southeast Louisiana, central and southern California, and areas around Dallas, Houston, Chicago and Phoenix.
Those areas seem to have a combination of factors that include the right kinds of virus-carrying mosquitoes and birds, along with large numbers of people who can be infected, health officials say.
The best way to prevent West Nile disease is to avoid mosquito bites. Insect repellents, screens on doors and windows, and wearing long sleeves and pants are some of the recommended strategies. Also, residents are encouraged to empty standing water from buckets, kiddie pools and other places to discourage breeding.
(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)