Sixteen people, two of whom have since died, had contracted the West Nile virus carried by mosquitoes in northern Greece, hospital officials said yesterday, as they warned the public not to panic. «At the moment, 16 cases, most of which involve elderly people, of the West Nile virus have been confirmed by lab tests,» said Professor Anna Papa of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, which carried out the checks. She said that 23 people who had been admitted to the hospital since June suffering brain inflammation and a form of meningitis had been tested for the virus and 16 had been found to have contracted it. One of these patients is in critical condition and another is serious but stable. The most recent death was that of a 79-year-old man who died on Sunday. A 75-year-old woman was the first to die, on Friday. West Nile virus is transmitted by mosquitoes and was discovered in 1937 in Uganda. Sporadic cases of the disease in humans have occurred in Europe since the 1960s. «There is no reason to panic,» said Papa. «The virus usually causes a slight illness and, in many cases, people do not even realize that they are ill.» She said that the elderly suffer worse symptoms because the virus usually affects their central nervous system. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO) advised people to wear light-colored clothing and long sleeves and pants to avoid being bitten. They also recommend using insect repellent and draining any standing water. Authorities in central Macedonia, where most cases have been reported, and other parts of northern Greece said they would step up mass spraying programs in an attempt to ward off the mosquitoes.