PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Health officials are calling it "one of the biggest seasons" for West Nile virus in Maricopa County and want people to protect themselves.

As of Friday, Aug. 9, seven people have died this year because of the virus in the county, according to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, the medical director at the department, said there have been 107 confirmed cases in the Phoenix area. That's four times the number of cases Maricopa County saw in all of 2018.

[RELATED: Number of West Nile-infected mosquitoes spike around the Phoenix area]

"The vast majority of them are the severe kind that affect the nerves, the brain and the spinal cord," said Sunenshine. "There's probably a lot more out there."

Maricopa County hasn't seen this many cases since 2010, which saw 115 West Nile virus cases.

[RELATED: West Nile virus now is a permanent part of Arizona’s ecosystem, study finds]

"This is a very heavy year," said Sunenshine.

It's unclear what has led to the rise in West Nile virus cases, especially considering the Valley has seen little rain during the monsoon.

She emphasized that people need to wear insect repellant and to get rid of standing water around their home.

[RELATED: Lack of monsoon rain doesn't slow down spread of mosquitoes, West Nile fears]

"Even toys can have enough water for mosquitoes to lay their eggs," said Sunenshine.

Some homeowners are turning to pest-control companies to spray their shrubs and bushes.


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