Seven people in Benton and Franklin counties are confirmed to have West Nile virus so far this year.
That’s as many local cases as for all of 2014.
And the Tri-City cases also account for all but one of the confirmed human infections in the state at this point in 2015. The eighth person confirmed to have West Nile in Washington this year likely was exposed in Adams County.
When people become infected with West Nile, the source almost always is a bite from a mosquito carrier.
This year’s earlier-than-usual mosquito season — likely brought on by the heat and drought — surely has contributed to the increased activity, said Dr. Amy Person, health officer of the Benton-Franklin Health District.
Six of the seven local cases are from Benton County and the seventh is from Franklin County.
Most people with West Nile don’t become sick. A relatively small number develop mild symptoms, such as fever and aches, and an even smaller number become seriously ill. The elderly and people with compromised immune systems are particularly vulnerable, Person said.
There’s no human vaccine.
This year, “the disease activity is high, relatively speaking, in our area. But there are things people can do,” Person said. “Prevention is going to be your best tool.”
People should remove standing water from their properties, make sure their screen doors and windows are secure, use mosquito repellant , wear long pants and sleeves when in mosquito-infested areas and stay indoors during the peak mosquito times of dusk and dawn, if possible.
Three unvaccinated horses, two birds and 19 mosquitoes samples in the Benton-Franklin area also have tested positive for West Nile so far this year.
The state Department of Health has detailed information about West Nile virus on its website, www.doh.wa.gov.