KDHE issues high-risk warning for West Nile virus in Kansas; virus has been reported in horses in 5 counties, including Douglas

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The West Nile virus is carried by mosquitoes.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Wednesday issued a high-risk warning for West Nile virus infections for most regions of the state.

The virus is carried by mosquitoes and can infect humans, horses, birds and other species, according to KDHE, and most infections occur in the late summer and early fall. So far, 22 human cases have been reported to KDHE in 2023, 17 of them “neuroinvasive” and three of them deaths. The Kansas Department of Agriculture has also reported seven equine cases in 2023 in five counties, including Douglas County.

According to KDHE, the virus isn’t contagious from horse to horse or from horse to human. It can be fatal in horses but is preventable with annual vaccinations. Symptoms for horses infected with West Nile virus can include depression, loss of appetite and neurological signs like loss of coordination or hypersensitivity to touch or sound.

The virus isn’t, however, preventable for humans; there are no vaccines or medications to prevent or treat it. Treatment consists only of supportive care. Per KDHE, most people infected with the virus won’t feel sick, but about one in five will develop a fever and other symptoms, and about one out of 150 will develop a “neuroinvasive disease.” That can include swelling of the brain or brain tissue and, in some cases, death.

KDHE recommends taking actions like using insect repellents that contain DEET and wearing long sleeves and pants when practical while outdoors. Another recommendation is to limit outdoor activities during peak mosquito activity times, which are typically at dusk and dawn.


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