The City of El Paso has reported its first West Nile virus death of the year to push the statewide fatality count to at least 44.

The City of El Paso Department of Public Health on Wednesday confirmed a 77-year-old man had died of the West Nile virus. His name and further details on the death were not immediately released.

The agency says it's the worst year ever for West Nile deaths in the state. Texas health officials say the state had 40 West Nile deaths in 2003.

West Nile virus was first reported in the U.S. in 1999 in New York, and gradually spread across the country over the years. It peaked in 2002 and 2003, when severe illnesses reached nearly 3,000 and deaths surpassed 260. Last year was mild with fewer than 700 cases.

Only about one in five infected people get sick. One in 150 infected people will develop severe symptoms including neck stiffness, disorientation, coma and paralysis.

In recent years, cases have been scattered across the country. Hot spots are usually in southeast Louisiana, central and southern California, and areas around Dallas, Houston, Chicago and Phoenix.

Those areas seem to have a combination of factors that include the right kinds of virus-carrying mosquitoes and birds, along with large numbers of people who can be infected, health officials say.

The best way to prevent West Nile disease is to avoid mosquito bites. Insect repellents, screens on doors and windows and wearing long sleeves and pants are some of the recommended strategies. Also, empty standing water from buckets, kiddie pools and other places to discourage breeding.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

Follow us on twitter.com/foxnewslatino
Like us at facebook.com/foxnewslatino