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93-year-old Is First to Die of West Nile Virus in Kansas

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TOPEKA, Kan. - Kansas has recorded its first death from West Nile virus since the disease reached the state last year, health officials reported Thursday.

They described the victim only as a 93-year-old Butler County resident who died this week in a Butler County hospital after showing signs of encephalitis.

The officials, speaking at a news conference, declined to provide additional information because of patient confidentiality restrictions.

"We are saddened but not surprised by this event," state epidemiologist Gianfranco Pezzino said.

He said health officials had expected 2003 to be a difficult year based on the number of West Nile cases seen in other states where the virus had been detected earlier. It was first identified in the United States in 1999.

The victim in Butler County, west of Wichita, was the ninth confirmed human West Nile case recorded this year in Kansas. Last year the state had 22 human cases, but no deaths were reported.

The death was the 15th in the United States this year. The victims ranged in age from 67 to 97.

The human cases in Kansas involved people ages 2 to 93.

Gianfranco said about 80 percent of the people infected with West Nile displayed no symptoms and did not know they had been infected.

Gail Hansen, deputy state epidemiologist, said: "It is important to keep in mind that the majority of West Nile virus cases are very mild and your chances of getting severe disease are small. However, those of you over 50 are at a higher risk for serious illness, as are those who have other illnesses affecting the immune system."

Estimates are that only 1 in 150 persons infected with the virus will develop a more severe form of the disease.

The virus is transmitted to humans when a mosquito bites an infected bird and then bites a human.

Pezzino and Hansen said West Nile symptoms were usually mild and included headache, low-grade fever and muscle aches. On rare occasions, the virus can result in serious illness causing a stiff neck, swelling of the brain, swelling of the brain's covering, paralysis or even death.

Symptoms usually surface within seven to 10 days after the person is bitten.

Pezzino said the best way to avoid the virus would be to take precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes and to eliminate stagnant water where mosquitoes breed.


(c) 2003, The Kansas City Star. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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