OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A record 102 people were infected with West Nile virus this year in Oklahoma and the disease killed eight people, health officials said. Most of those who died were senior citizens with underlying conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
The previous high number of cases was 79 in 2003, and the highest number of deaths previously was six in 2006.
Heavy early-summer rains boosted the populations of culex mosquitoes, which spread the virus, public health authorities said Monday.
All eight deaths were men between the ages of 60 and 88. Six of the men were in their 80s. All died from West Nile-related encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.
"A lot of people let their guard down after Labor Day," and did not adequately protect themselves from mosquito bites, Dr. Kristy Bradley, state epidemiologist, said.
"The West Nile virus is an ongoing threat from July through October. Those eight dead men were outdoor activists living independently."
This year, Tulsa County had the most West Nile virus cases with 34 and the most deaths of any county with three. Comanche County had eight cases, but no deaths. Pittsburg County had three cases, but no deaths.
Individual counties with one death were Lincoln, Payne, Okmulgee, Ottawa, and Sequoyah.