- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2000

Maryland was testing 19 "priority birds" yesterday for the West Nile virus as the number of dead birds reported by the state's residents "increased dramatically," state health officials said.

On Monday night alone, more than 100 birds from all over the state were brought in for testing, said J.B. Hanson, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The department already had been collecting between 30 and 40 birds daily, but calls to the hot line for reporting dead birds had shot up even further following reports of infected birds since last week, he said.

Four more crows tested positive for West Nile virus in Maryland this week, pushing the number of infected crows to 13. Three of the crows were picked up in Baltimore, and one more was found in Anne Arundel County.

Health officials said they were not alarmed yet by the increasing number of bird infections.

"Right now, we do not know what the point of origin for these birds is," Mr. Hanson said, adding that the birds could be migratory.

Were the virus to be discovered in mosquitoes, however, it would mean it has become entrenched in this area and could resurface next summer, health officials said. The most common carrier for the West Nile Virus is Culex Pipiens, or the Northern house mosquito, and so far spraying has been directed toward controlling this species.

"We have a wide margin of confidence that the virus is not [in mosquitoes] here," said Don Vandrey, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

The Department of Agriculture yesterday concluded two days of spraying for mosquitoes in Baltimore and announced that it would start spraying in the Brooklyn area of Baltimore and the Brooklyn Park area of Anne Arundel County today. These are the areas where the latest cases of West Nile infections were found.

Spraying in Baltimore was suspended last week because of a cooling-down of the weather that reduced mosquito activity.

Mosquitoes transmit the virus from birds to humans, and so far no mosquitoes or humans have tested positive for the virus in Maryland. Seven persons died of West Nile infection in New York last year, and one person died in New Jersey last month.

In humans, the West Nile virus can cause encephalitis, a fatal swelling of the brain, and aseptic meningitis, a swelling of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Typically, however, the virus causes just a fever or a rash in humans. People over 50 are at greater risk. No known cure or treatment for the virus exists.

But the spraying, which was carried out in Baltimore between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. over the last two days, has raised concerns of poisoning among some residents.

The department had received several calls from concerned residents since the spraying started, "but that's only normal," Mr. Vandrey said.

"We recognize that there are people out there on the streets who may have been exposed," he said. "But this [spraying] is something we have to do."

Twenty pounds of the insecticide permethrin were sprayed over eight square miles of Baltimore during the past two days. Mr. Vandrey said permethrin is commonly found in household repellents.

In some people it can cause irritation of the eyes, skin or respiratory tract. Prolonged exposure can cause numbing, tingling and burning of the skin. State health officials said the effects were reversible and usually disappear within 12 hours.

The Department of Agriculture has set up a toll-free number (1-800-492-2414) for those who believe they may be affected by permethrin. The department also was informing people beforehand on which areas would be sprayed, he said.

The Anne Arundel County Department of Health reported yesterday that 53 birds picked up in the county had been tested for the virus so far.

Maryland has tested 621 dead birds and 3,338 mosquito pools, Mr. Hanson said.

Virginia, where no positive cases have turned up so far, has tested more than 165 birds for the virus and 2,500 mosquito pools, mainly in the Hampton Roads area where the mosquito population is higher, said assistant state epidemiologist Suzanne Jenkins.

Fourteen people in the state also have been tested for the virus. So far, all tests in Virginia have been negative.

In Virginia, finding West Nile infections among birds may be just a matter of time.

"It wouldn't surprise me if [the virus] turned up in Virginia," Ms. Jenkins said.

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