DALLAS (AP) — Two more deaths have brought the Texas West Nile fever death toll to at least 33 this year.
Montague County officials reported this week that a 75-year-old Bowie man died Aug. 12. Meanwhile, health officials say a Nueces County woman described as between 45 and 60 years old died Monday of West Nile fever.
Both were said to have had underlying medical conditions.
Texas has been a hotbed of West Nile fever spread by a virus carried by mosquitoes. At least 20 of the 33 reported Texas deaths have occurred in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, with at least 12 in Dallas County alone.
Mosquitoes spread the virus from birds to people. Severe symptoms including neck stiffness, disorientation, coma and paralysis.
Communities across North Texas this week are boosting efforts to educate people about the West Nile virus. This comes as health officials await results of aerial spraying on a mosquito population that has put Texas at the center of a nationwide outbreak.
Workers in Dallas have been passing through neighborhoods to hand out educational materials, drain standing water and apply larvicide to puddles. Other communities are providing tablets to kill mosquito larvae, and using automated phone messages and social media to spread the word.
The strategies were implemented this summer as the virus has infected hundreds of people and killed more than 20 others across Texas. The Dallas County area has been the hardest hit, with about 300 falling ill.
Officials have not ruled out doing more aerial spraying.
The current West Nile outbreak is one of the largest in the U.S., with four times the usual number of cases for this time of year, federal health officials said.
It's still too early to say how bad the year will end up because most infections are reported in August and September. But never before have so many illnesses been reported this early, said Dr. Lyle Petersen, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We're in the midst of one of the largest West Nile outbreaks ever seen in the United States," said Petersen, who oversees the CDC's mosquito-borne illness programs.
So far, 1,118 illnesses have been reported, about half of them in Texas. In an average year, fewer than 300 cases are reported by mid-August. There have also been 41 deaths this year, the CDC said.