BAKERSFIELD (AP) — State officials say an 88-year-old Kern County woman is the first person to die from the West Nile virus in California this year.

Department of Public Health officials said Friday the virus is sickening people earlier this year than last year.

So far, 10 people in five California counties have gotten sick from West Nile virus this year. More than 240 people have been reported ill nationwide.

Last year, 159 people in California got sick from the virus, and nine people died.

West Nile virus is transmitted to humans and animals through mosquito bites. For most people, the risk of illness is low, but the elderly and people with diabetes or hypertension are more vulnerable.

Officials say people should protect themselves from mosquito bites and eliminate standing water.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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