The Connecticut Department of Public Health has confirmed two new human cases of West Nile virus -- one in Bridgeport and one in Stamford. The new cases, announced Thursday, bring the total of human cases this year to four.

Both people were between the ages of 50 and 59. The Stamford resident became ill during the first week of August and the Bridgeport resident became ill during the second week of July. Both were hospitalized for encephalitis.

Despite this latest news, experts say that Connecticut has, overall, not been hit that hard by what many have deemed one of the harshest West Nile seasons on record. State health commissioner Dr. Jewel Mullen said, last year, no human cases were confirmed until Aug. 31, so cases have started earlier this year, which many have attributed to the hot weather. But Connecticut isn't in as dire straits as Texas, which, as of Tuesday, had seen 537 human cases, including 19 deaths. "Overall, we're not seeing an extreme increase in the number of cases," Mullen said.

West Nile is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. Since late June, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has been trapping and testing mosquitoes throughout the state. WNV-positive mosquitoes have been identified in 41 towns, including Bridgeport, Danbury, Fairfield, Greenwich, Milford, Shelton, Stratford and Stamford.

Last week, the state reported that a New Haven resident and a Stamford resident tested positive for the illness.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been more than 1,110 cases of WNV in people so far this season. That's the highest number of human cases reported to the CDC through the third week of August since WNV was first detected in the United States in 1999. There also have been more than 40 deaths this year.

About 50 percent of the West Nile cases have been reported in Texas. Overall, 75 percent of this year's West Nile cases are in five states -- Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota and Oklahoma.

With only four confirmed human cases so far this season, "Connecticut has been relatively spared," said Dr. David Hill, director of the global public health program at Quinnipiac University's Frank H. Netter M.D. School of Medicine.

But Hill said it remains to be seen whether this season of West Nile will end up being the worst on record. West Nile season typically runs until the end of September (though human cases have cropped up as late as November). Though there have already been more human cases than there were last year, in which 712 illnesses were reported, we're still a long way from 2003, in which a total of 9,862 cases were reported.

"You have to think we're definitely going to have more cases, but whether it's going to be the worst? I don't know," Hill said. "It's hard to predict."

In Connecticut, there will likely be more human cases in the next month or so, but West Nile activity in the state is slowly tapering off, said Dr. Theodore G. Andreadis, chief medical entomologist for the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. He said researchers are still finding large pockets of infected mosquitoes -- primarily in lower Fairfield and New Haven counties -- but the season seems to be past its peak. However, Andreadis said people in the state should still exercise caution when outside. "We're still detecting virus," he said. "It's still at a level where it can be transmitted to humans."

Though about 80 percent of people infected with West Nile don't show symptoms, it can cause serious symptoms in some people, including those older than 50. Symptoms can include high fever, headaches, neck stiffness and convulsion and, in some cases, coma, paralysis or even death can result.

Even those who recover from West Nile might experience lasting effects from the disease, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. That study, which examined 139 people who had West Nile virus, found that about 40 percent of them had chronic kidney disease. Some study participants had been infected within the year, but 83 percent were four to nine years post infection.

Because of the potential seriousness of this illness, experts advise such precautions as using insect repellent while outdoors, getting rid of standing water in flower pots and other receptacles (which can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes) and making sure you have good screens on your windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out.; 203-330-6290;;