- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 28, 2002

With two crows in Northern Virginia having tested positive for the West Nile virus this month, health officials warn that people in the state are at much higher risk of contracting the exotic and potentially deadly virus this year.
"Expectations are that there will be much more viral activity in Virginia this year and people are at a higher risk," said Dr. Suzanne Jenkins, assistant state epidemiologist for the state's health department.
One of the two crows that tested positive this month was found in Fairfax; the other, in Arlington County. Last year the first positive bird was found in July, Dr. Jenkins said, adding that the virus appears to have established itself firmly inside the country.
To avoid infection, Dr. Jenkins advises eliminating all standing water around homes and using protective measures to reduce chances of being bitten by mosquitoes, which transmit the virus from birds to humans.
The West Nile virus, first discovered among birds in New York in 1999, has spread rapidly to several states around the country, killing thousands of birds and infecting hundreds of humans. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that by the end of 2001 there were 149 human cases of West Nile virus. Of those stricken, 18 died.
Virginia, which found 215 positive birds and six positive horses last year but no human cases, already has tested as many as 76 birds since the beginning of this year.
In Maryland, where six humans tested positive for the virus, about five birds have been tested so far this year, said Tracy DuVernoy, chief of rabies and vector-borne diseases in the state's health department. "All through winter we were testing sporadically for the virus," she said, adding that no positive birds or human cases have turned up so far.
She said active surveillance for the virus will start next week. "There is some last-minute fine tuning to be done and the laboratory will not be operational till May 1," she said.
In the District, health department workers are already knocking on doors to spread awareness about the virus, said Peggy Keller, chief of the Animal Disease Prevention Division.
Prevention activity started early this year "because this year a positive bird found in Arlington led us to be concerned," she said. The District picked up 360 infected birds and found the virus in three mosquito pools last year. There have been no positives so far this year.
The virus affects mostly older people. All six human cases reported in Maryland last year were among people over age 60. While most were in Baltimore County and Baltimore City, one a 76-year-old man was in Prince George's County.
The virus can cause encephalitis, a potential swelling of the brain, or aseptic meningitis, a swelling of the lining of the brain. Most infected humans, however, show milder symptoms, including headache, fever and body aches with a skin rash and swollen lymph glands. More severe infection is marked by headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, occasional convulsions and paralysis.
The virus is transmitted from birds to humans only via mosquitoes. Last year, as many as 18 mosquito pools in Maryland tested positive for the virus, including two in Prince George's and one in Howard County. Across the state, 454 birds also tested positive for the virus, including 49 in Montgomery and 74 in Prince George's counties.

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