Two Baker County residents have contracted the West Nile virus from mosquito bites, officials announced today in a press release.

The people were not identified. Nancy Staten at the Baker County Health Department declined to give the gender or age of the two people, or say what part of the county they live in. The health department also didn't disclose the condition of the two people and whether either had been hospitalized. The virus generally causes mild flu-like symptoms, but in rare cases it can be fatal.

The most recent confirmed human cases of West Nile virus in Baker County were in 2014, when two women who live at New Bridge, about 3 miles north of Richland, were infected. Both women recovered.

There have been five other confirmed cases of Oregon residents contracting West Nile virus while in the state — 3 in Harney County and two in Malheur County.

Earlier this summer four pools of mosquitoes trapped in Baker County tested positive for the virus. All of those mosquitoes were trapped in the Keating Valley, about 15 miles east of Baker City.

Health officials are advising people in Baker County to take precautions against mosquitoes to avoid the risk of infection, including preventing mosquito bites. West Nile Virus is transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes.

About one in five infected people may show signs of West Nile virus. People at risk of serious illness include individuals 50 and older, and people with immune-compromising conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

West Nile symptoms may include fever above 100 degrees and severe headache, stiff neck, mental confusion, muscle weakness, shaking, paralysis or rash. People should contact their health care provider if experiencing any of these symptoms.

The incubation period is usually two to 14 days. Rarely, infected individuals may develop an infection of the brain or spinal column that can be severe or may cause death. This is especially of concern to those who have a compromised immune system, or the elderly.

Dr. Emilio DeBess, veterinarian at the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division, recommends people and animals be protected against mosquito bites.

“It’s very easy for people to prevent bites from mosquitoes that may carry West Nile virus,” DeBess says. “Although the risk of contracting West Nile virus is low, people can take simple precautions to keep these insects at bay if they’re headed outdoors.”

DeBess offers these tips:

• Eliminate sources of standing water that are a breeding ground for mosquitoes. This includes watering troughs, bird baths, clogged gutters and old tires.

• When engaged in outdoor activities at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active, protect yourself by using mosquito repellants containing DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus or Picardin, and follow the directions on the container.

• Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants in mosquito-infested areas.

• Make sure screen doors and windows are in good repair and fit tightly.

In 2018, there were two human cases of West Nile virus in Harney and Clackamas counties. The virus was found in one bird, 58 mosquito pools — samples of about 50 mosquitoes each — and two horses. In 2017, seven humans, 92 mosquito pools, five horses and one bird tested positive for West Nile. The virus also can be found in chickens, squirrels and dogs.

Climate change effects such as increased temperature and changes in rainfall have led to longer mosquito seasons and are contributing to the spread of West Nile virus, health officials say. They agree these, and other climate change indicators must be considered to help people better prepare for future transmission of the disease.

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