OLYMPIA/YAKIMA – The first two cases of West Nile virus (WNV) in Washington this year have been reported by the Yakima County Health District and Benton-Franklin Health District. The Yakima County resident, a man in his 50’s, was hospitalized due to the infection. The Benton County resident, a man in his 60’s, was not hospitalized.

WNV can be a serious, even fatal, illness. It can affect people, horses, birds, and other animals. WNV is almost always spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected after feeding on birds that carry the virus. There is no evidence that WNV spreads by direct contact with infected people or animals. The majority of people infected with WNV do not get sick. About one in five will develop a fever or other symptoms that go away without medical treatment. Even fewer, about one in 150 people infected, will have more severe symptoms.

Severe symptoms may include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, paralysis, and coma. If you have any of these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider right away.

Health officials advise people to take action to avoid mosquito bites:

  • Use an effective, EPA-registered insect repellent.
  • Cover up: Wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks when outdoors.
  • Avoid mosquito prime time. Many mosquitoes bite in the evening between dusk and dawn. Take extra care to use repellent and protective clothing during evening and morning hours.
  • Mosquito-proof your home by installing or repairing screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitos outside.
  • Reduce mosquito-breeding areas around your home by emptying standing water from flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet water dishes, discarded tires, and birdbaths on a regular basis.

“Spending time outdoors can help with social distancing to prevent COVID-19, but it can also put you at risk for mosquito-borne disease,” said epidemiologist Hanna Oltean. “People throughout Washington should take precautions to prevent mosquito bites.”

WNV has been detected this summer in mosquitos in Yakima, Benton, and Franklin counties; historically, counties across Washington have been affected, although risk is generally highest in Eastern Washington. WNV season starts as early as July and can last until early October.