Topeka A 93-year-old Butler County resident has become the first person in Kansas to die from the West Nile virus, state health officials said Thursday.
The victim showed signs of encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, on Aug. 10 after being bitten by a mosquito in late July or early August, the Department of Health and Environment said. The person died in a hospital earlier this week, but KDHE declined to release further details, citing patient confidentiality laws.
The Butler County case brought the number of human West Nile cases to nine so far this year in Kansas, with three other cases announced Wednesday. Last year, the state reported 22 cases in humans but no deaths.
KDHE officials had predicted outbreaks of West Nile would be worse this year because it was detected in most counties across the state last year. The first human case last year was not confirmed until September.
Drought also could be contributing to outbreaks this year by creating a better environment for breeding mosquitos, state health officials said.
"We are saddened but not surprised by this event," Dr. Gianfranco Pezzino, the state epidemiologist, said during a news conference. "The virus is here in Kansas, and it's going to stay. It's not going to go away."
West Nile cases announced Wednesday involved a 41-year-old Cloud County resident, a 79-year-old in Pratt County and a 53-year-old from Decatur County. The Pratt and Decatur county victims remained hospitalized, while the Cloud County resident was recovering at home, KDHE officials said.
Previous confirmed cases include a 62-year-old in Seward County, a 54-year-old in Gray County, a 2-year-old in Ford County, a 65-year-old in Sherman County and a 38-year-old in Gray County.
The state has been monitoring birds, horses and mosquitos for signs of the virus since May. West Nile is considered primarily a bird disease, but humans can contract it when bitten by mosquitos that have bitten infected birds.
West Nile typically causes headaches, low-grade fever and muscle aches. In rare cases, the virus may cause encephalitis, swelling of the brain, or meningitis, swelling of the lining around the brain and spinal cord.