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SALEM -- Two human cases of the West Nile virus have been confirmed in Oregon this week, prompting health officials to remind people to protect themselves during the coming Labor Day weekend.

One individual each in Coos and Malheur counties has tested positive for the virus, health officials said Tuesday. The man and woman are both over the age of 50.

Until this week, the virus had only been diagnosed in animals in Oregon, including a horse in Klamath County.

The West Nile virus is a potentially serious illness spread by mosquitoes. Most infections are mild, with fever and flu-like symptoms, but severe infections may cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), and rarely, death.

Oregon s state and county public health departments, together with vector control districts, have been testing mosquito pools and tracking West Nile virus cases since 1999, when the virus first appeared in the United States.

Health officials said the state usually sees a surge around Labor Day, when many people go camping.

Having tracked West Nile cases for many years now, we know that the number of cases typically peaks by Labor Day weekend, said Emilio DeBess, D.V.M., M.P.H., Oregon Health Authority veterinarian. There are simple things people can do to protect themselves.

DeBess recommended the following precautions:

  • Eliminate sources of standing water that are a breeding ground for mosquitoes, including watering troughs, bird baths, clogged gutters and old tires.
  • When outdoors at dusk or dawn when mosquitoes are most active, protect yourself by using mosquito repellents containing DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus or Picaridin, 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.

More: West Nile virus fact sheet

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