OKLAHOMA CITY - The number of people who've died in Oklahoma after being infected with West Nile Virus (WNV) has increased to three.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reports one person died in Seminole County and two people died in Oklahoma County. Another 38 people have been hospitalized with the disease.

State epidemiologists warn this summer could be the worst WNV season in Oklahoma history. The last severe outbreak was in 2007. Twenty Oklahomans died and 107 people became sick.

The situation has become so serious, Gov. Mary Fallin is urging people to take precautions.

"West Nile virus is a serious disease that can be life-altering or even fatal," said Fallin. "Many of our fellow Oklahomans are now hospitalized with West Nile virus. Even though we are early into the season, at least 61 cases and three deaths have been reported in Oklahoma. The best way to prevent West Nile virus is to avoid mosquito bites."

State health experts say there are several simple ways to avoid mosquito bites:

  • Wear insect repellant containing an active ingredient such as 10% to 30% DEET.
  • Prevent items such as buckets and tarps from holding standing water.
  • Empty your outdoor pet's water bowl and refill daily.
  • Rinse, scrub, and refill birdbaths weekly.
  • Empty plastic wading pools weekly and store indoors when not in use.
  • Maintain swimming pools and outdoor hot tubs regularly as recommended by manufacturer.
  • Store boats covered or upside down.

Symptoms of West Nile -- such as fever, body aches, headache and general fatigue -- can mimic those of the flu. Other symptoms can include a rash on the torso and swollen lymph glands. The length of the illness can vary from just a few days to several weeks.

Because antibiotics do not work against viruses, Dr. Stephen Prescott, president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation President, says West Nile just has to run its course.

"Doctors can treat the symptoms, but the virus has to run its course. It's most dangerous for the very young and very old or people with compromised immune systems, including lupus patients."

Dr. Stephens says while the overall risk of contracting West Nile is low, people should still take precautions to avoid the disease.