Kansas health officials have confirmed the first human case of West Nile virus in the state for 2003.
A 38-year-old Gray County resident first reported signs of meningitis on July 20 and is now recovering, said Sharon Watson of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. West Nile virus can cause meningitis in humans.
In its second year in Kansas, the virus has been confirmed by the department in 25 counties. All other cases have been in birds, horses or mosquito pools.
Gray County is in southwest Kansas.
Last year, 103 of 105 Kansas counties reported cases in either humans, horses, birds or mosquitoes. There were 22 human cases but no deaths.
Kim Ens, disease control program coordinator for the Douglas County Health Department, said more cases of the disease typically were found in the second year of an outbreak. But she said drought this year might have kept West Nile from spreading as quickly, because mosquitoes, which transmit the virus, don't have as much standing water in which to lay eggs.
"The summer isn't over yet, but hopefully because it is so dry it won't be as eventful as it could be," Ens said.
But Watson said the state had anticipated more cases beginning earlier this year based on studies of the virus in states on the East Coast. So far, she said, the virus does seem to have appeared at an accelerated rate. The first case this year was confirmed May 28, whereas last year's first case was in late July.
"It (drought) could certainly be a factor, but we don't see the weather impacting breeding too much," she said.
The health department has found no cases in Douglas County, though surrounding counties have had some cases. Shawnee and Johnson counties each have reported four cases of West Nile in birds, and Jefferson and Franklin counties each reported one case in birds.
Ens said there were most likely mosquitoes with West Nile in Douglas County despite no confirmed cases, and residents should take precautions.
The virus is considered primarily a bird disease but can be transmitted to humans when mosquitoes bite infected birds and then bite humans.
There were 794 cases last year in horses and mules, causing more area horse owners to get their horses vaccinated this year.
Larry Mages, veterinarian with Mages Veterinary Clinic in Ottawa, said he had vaccinated more horses this year and had yet to treat any for the virus.
In 2002, Mages treated about 40 infected horses and put down five. He said that first experience with the virus prompted most horse owners to have their animals vaccinated early.
"Word has gotten around over the fall and winter, and I think people are more aware that this disease is here to stay," Mages said.
Though most cases in horses did not show up until mid-August of 2002, Mages said he hoped vaccinations would keep the virus from killing any more horses.
"Once they show symptoms, we'll treat them with any medications we can, but it's fatal about 40 percent of the time," Mages said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in 150 people infected with West Nile will develop severe illness. Symptoms include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. The symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent. In rarer instances, those infected die.