Missouri has recorded its first West Nile virus death of 2018, and Kansas officials have confirmed a travel-related case of Zika virus in Wyandotte County as the toll from the height of mosquito season is counted.
The West Nile death occurred in the eastern part of the state, where the virus has been most prevalent since it first appeared in Missouri almost 20 years ago, Ken Palermo, the administrator of the Division of Disease Prevention within the Missouri Department of Senior Services, said in a phone interview Wednesday.
“West Nile Virus has always been endemic in the St. Louis area,” Palermo said.
Palermo said none of the 10 confirmed cases of West Nile virus in Missouri this year were in the Kansas City area. There was one case in Jackson County last year, when his division recorded 17 statewide.
The mosquitoes that carry West Nile are in the Kansas City area, though.
Two Johnson County residents developed serious brain infections from the virus this year, and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment recorded two less serious cases in residents of Douglas County, which includes Lawrence, and Republic County north of Salina.
Kansas health department spokeswoman Theresa Freed said none of the Kansas cases resulted in death so far this year.
Of the 10 cases in Missouri, eight are believed to have been contracted within the state and two imported from other states. Eight resulted in hospitalizations, but Palermo said it’s important to point out that only the most serious cases of West Nile tend to get reported.
Palermo said some people have had West Nile virus infections without even knowing it, because the symptoms were mild or non-existent and the disease resolved on its own. Only about 1 in 150 infections results in the neuro-invasive form of the disease that the two Johnson County residents are facing.
Still, Palermo said those who want to protect themselves should wear pants and long-sleeved shirts while outside, use insect repellents with DEET, and drain standing water on their property where mosquitoes like to breed.
“It’s going to be the usual prevention methods,” Palermo said.
The mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus are also found in Kansas and Missouri, but no mosquito-borne cases have been recorded on the United States mainland outside of Florida and Texas. Those cases occurred in 2017. No mosquito-borne cases have been recorded on the mainland this year.
“We have not found Zika virus in any Kansas mosquitoes to date,” Freed said via email. “All Kansas cases at this time are travel-related.”
The Wyandotte County case is the only Zika case recorded in Kansas this year. Palermo said Missouri hasn’t recorded any.
Zika can be transmitted sexually, even by people with no symptoms, and research has determined that it survives within semen longer than previously thought — almost three months after exposure in some cases. The Centers for Disease Control recommends use of condoms during that time period to reduce the risk of transmission.
Zika symptoms are mild or non-existent for most adults, but the virus can cause serious birth defects when pregnant women contract the virus and pass it to their fetuses.
A 2017 study by a St. Louis University researcher identified Wyandotte County as one of 507 potential hotspots for Zika transmission nationwide. The study was based on several factors: the presence of the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry the virus; high rates of sexually transmitted infections; number of women of child-bearing age; and an estimate of birth rates for each county.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services now provides less information on its website about the locations of mosquito-born illnesses because of privacy concerns.
But the department’s director, Randall Williams, said the department is reviewing the change, and he wants to keep the public informed about what regions are experiencing infections.
“I’m just trying to make sure I understand as we look at HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and protecting data that we’re being reasonable about that,” Williams said.