- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 5, 2001

Volunteers will knock on doors in Montgomery County, Md., this summer to educate residents about controlling the mosquito population around their homes as part of a West Nile virus awareness campaign.
The county's health department is now training volunteers for its "Mosquito aNILEators Program," designed to prevent the spread of the virus. The first recruitment drive for volunteers was held last week, with a second one scheduled for Tuesday. So far, about 30 volunteers have been recruited.
Volunteers will visit only those areas where a bird that tested positive for the virus has been found, knock on residents' doors, and ask for permission to walk them around their front and back yards to educate them on reducing mosquito breeding around their homes, organizers said. They will also distribute educational flyers.
Montgomery County has not seen any infections among birds this year, but last year three infected birds were found there.
The volunteers are trained to be friendly and courteous at all times and are told not to enter homes, said Marilyn Piety, program officer with the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Resources. If the potential breeding site is small, like a bucket or a birdbath, the volunteer will offer to assist the resident in removing it.
"It is not an enforcement thing. We will simply offer people help to find places they are not aware of where mosquitoes could breed," she said.
"People often think mosquitoes breed only in swamps and gutters, but in Montgomery County most mosquitoes breed in containers," she said.
The usual suspects are buckets, tires, flower pot saucers, bird baths, toys with cavities, and pet food bowls, among other things. "A single overturned bottle cap filled with water could breed as many as a hundred mosquitoes," she said.
Mosquitoes are the only known transmitters of the West Nile virus, carrying it from infected birds to humans.
The most commonly found mosquitoes in Montgomery County are the northern house mosquito (Culex pipiens) and the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus). While the northern house mosquito has been the most common carrier of the West Nile virus in the United States, the tiger mosquito is an aggressive human biter and breeds rapidly in artificial containers.
Its population has grown rapidly in Montgomery County in recent years and laboratory tests have showed it is an effective carrier of West Nile virus.
This year, Maryland reported the highest number of birds testing positive for the virus in the country. Twenty more birds tested positive yesterday, with the total jumping to 103 for this year, according to Department of Health and Mental Hygiene spokesman J. B. Hanson. One mosquito pool also tested positive this year in Baltimore City.
The West Nile virus, which kills most birds it infects, is not as fatal in humans and mostly affects those over 50 years old. It can cause encephalitis, a potential swelling of the brain, in some cases, but most infected people exhibit only minor, flulike symptoms.
Last year, in an effort to control the virus's spread, Maryland sprayed for mosquitoes in Baltimore City, which has had the most bird infections in the state. This year, however, there are no plans for spraying because the mosquito population has been low, said Cyrus Lesser, chief of the mosquito control division of the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
"If we find five culex mosquitoes in a trap in one night, that would be a trigger for concern. If we get 20 or more in a trap, we would consider it a modest to high risk for the virus and would consider spraying," he said.
But, he said, it was community efforts to prevent mosquito breeding that would be the most effective in retarding mosquito growth.
"The best way to control is for people to keep the community free of containers that breed mosquitoes," he said.

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