On Wednesday, health officials in California announced two of the state’s first West Nile deaths of 2014 after a 74-year-old woman in Sacramento County passed away soon after she was hospitalized as well as an adult from Shasta County. Sacramento’s Department of Health and Human Services has already offered helpful tips for avoiding mosquito bites that can lead to being infected with the West Nile Virus, but what are officials doing on both a state and national level in terms of protection and defense?

“This is a very sad outcome, one we had hoped to prevent. We are working to educate people about steps that can be taken to prevent contracting West Nile Virus,” Dr. Olivia Kasirye, Health Officer for Sacramento County, said in a statement.

The first year after West Nile Virus has established itself in a geographic region through infected mosquitoes, birds, or humans tends to be when most human infection are reported. Birds infected with West Nile were first detected in Sacramento County in July 2004, which was followed by three human cases starting in October 2004. The number of human cases in Sacramento had significantly increased by 2005.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a total of 82 cases of West Nile Virus disease in people have been reported, including 39 neuroinvasive diseases and 43 non-neuroinvasive diseases. In California, 36 counties have detected West Nile activity in 2014, including seven cases under investigation in Sacramento County. Sixteen new West Nile Virus cases in humans were reported in California this week.

The senior citizen from Sacramento County was reportedly suffering from an underlying chronic disease before she was admitted to the hospital due to West Nile infection. People over of the age of 50 who are infected with the West Nile Virus run a higher risk of serious illness, especially if they suffer from a compromised immune system. The second West Nile casualty has only been described as an adult from Shasta County.

"These unfortunate deaths remind us that we must protect ourselves from mosquito bites to prevent West Nile virus and other mosquito born infections," said Dr. Ron Chapman, CDPH Director and state public health officer. "West Nile virus activity is greatest during the summertime."

California health officials have offered preventive measures for West Nile infection, which include wearing insect repellant containing DEET, picaradin, or lemon eucalyptus oil at all times while outdoors, wearing long sleeves and pants when weather permits, avoid being outdoors during dawn and dusk when mosquito activity is at its highest, and turning over flower pots, pets bowls, and other water basins, which can become a breeding ground for mosquito eggs.

Mosquito control activities are usually handled on a local level through county or city governments while the method of mosquito control will depend on the time of year. These methods include eliminating mosquito larval habitats, applying insecticides to kill mosquito larvae, or spraying insecticides from a truck or aircraft to kill adult mosquito populations. Accurate reports by the public can be important to West Nile control and prevention, seeing as the decision to use insecticides to kill adult mosquitoes becomes a matter of surveillance data and the risk of human disease.