WNY Patient With West Nile Dies

September 12, 2012 Updated Sep 12, 2012 at 7:39 PM EDT

By Rachel Elzufon

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September 12, 2012 Updated Sep 12, 2012 at 7:39 PM EDT

Buffalo, NY (WKBW) - As the West Nile Virus outbreak continues to spread across the country, there's a startling development here in Western New York.

The first Erie County patient with West Nile Virus has died.

The Erie County Health Department says an unidentified elderly Erie County resident who was suffering from West Nile Virus died on Tuesday.

The Health Commissioner is calling this a West Nile Virus Associated Death. Dr. Gale Berstein says she cannot confirm a direct death, because the patient suffered from other illnesses and could have contracted complications while in the hospital.

Meanwhile, the number of West Nile cases in Erie County continues to rise. Wednesday morning, a ninth case was confirmed. There are five more unconfirmed cases as well.

Several of those people are in the hospital, including one in intensive care. All are said to be doing good.

Dr. Berstein explains this disease hits elderly most often, because they have weaker immune systems. Five of the nine confirmed cases are elderly patients.

This summer marks the largest West Nile Virus outbreak in U.S. history. Health officials say it was only a matter of time before it hit Western New York.

Dr. Berstein explains "In the past couple years we really haven't seen that many cases, and this year has been worse than the past couple years. And then looking at surveillance conducted in mosquitoes that have West Nile Virus, this is the most cases we've found in mosquitoes in a long time."

Most people with West Nile Virus suffer from flu symptoms. Sometimes, people have no symptoms at all. For those with neurological symptoms, it is very serious and can be deadly.

Dr. Berstein stresses that West Nile Virus can be prevented. She urges people to always have fresh water in pools -- standing water attracts mosquitoes. She also encourages people to cover their skin, especially at dusk when insects are more prevalent, and use insect repellent.