West Nile virus suspected as woman stricken

A Coffeyville woman, whose apartment is near large amounts of standing water left by last month’s flooding, was hospitalized in critical condition and believed to be suffering from the West Nile virus.

Mary Westmoreland, 44, began suffering spasms three weeks ago and was rushed to Coffeyville Regional Medical Center, where she lapsed into a two-week coma, her family said. She was later transferred to Freeman Hospital, in Joplin, Mo., where test results came back positive for West Nile on Monday.

A spokeswoman for Freeman Hospital confirmed that Westmoreland was in the hospital’s intensive care unit in critical condition.

Joe Blubaugh, spokesman with the Kansas Department of Health, said he could not confirm or deny the case was West Nile but said his department was aware of suspected cases in southeastern Kansas.

“There are suspect cases, but nothing confirmed,” Blubaugh said. “There are times when it’s diagnosed locally, or if it was just diagnosed, we wouldn’t have that information. But it wouldn’t be surprising.”

Coffeyville was hit by major flooding in late June, when the rain-swollen Verdigris River topped its banks and oil spilled from the Coffeyville Resources refinery. West Nile is spread by mosquitoes, who are attracted to water.

Westmoreland remains on a ventilator and is paralyzed from the neck down, but has come out of her coma, said her sister, Michelle Bishop.

“It really doesn’t look very good,” Bishop said. “It’s worse than cancer, at least they can treat you for cancer. There’s no medicine for West Nile.”

Westmoreland lives in an apartment on Coffeyville’s eastern side, a block from where the flooding left large amounts of standing water in abandoned lots and homes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had mosquito traps near there July 25 that captured 18 mosquitoes that tested positive as West Nile virus carriers. Three other mosquito monitoring stations in Coffeyville revealed no West Nile.

Symptoms of West Nile usually develop within three to 15 days, but Bishop said her sister’s illness appeared to begin hours after a mosquito bite. She said Westmoreland was suffering spasms and was taken to a hospital.

“I thought she was having a stroke, the way her hands were clenching up.”

Symptoms of West Nile may include skin rash, headache, fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, backache, muscle aches, lack of appetite and swollen glands.