- The Washington Times - Friday, August 23, 2002

From combined dispatches

Two deaths from West Nile virus were reported in Georgia yesterday, while a 33-year-old Richmond man has become the first person to test positive for the virus in Virginia, health officials said.

If confirmed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the deaths would raise the nationwide toll to at least 15 this year and 33 since the virus was first discovered in the United States in 1999.

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Georgia health officials said the victims were a 51-year-old Atlanta man and a 77-year-old man from Columbus, but did not say when they died.

Officials also reported four other probable cases of West Nile virus: two in Columbus, one in Perry and one in Covington. Although the cases were discovered in only four Georgia counties, officials said West Nile virus can be found throughout the state.

"West Nile virus arrived in Georgia last year, and there is currently no way to eradicate it, so we expect it to be with us every summer for the foreseeable future," said Dr. Kathleen Toomey, director of the state's Division of Public Health.

The last known human case of West Nile virus in Georgia was last summer, when an elderly Atlanta woman died of the disease, which can cause fatal brain swelling. Health officials have said the virus does not pose a threat to most people and mostly harms the elderly, the young and people with compromised immune systems.

Federal health officials said the virus will always be worse in the South because the region's warm weather creates a good breeding ground for mosquitoes. Of about 270 human cases of West Nile virus this year, at least 178 of them are in the coastal South.

In Virginia, Dr. Robert B. Stroube, state health commissioner, said blood tests performed by the state laboratory confirmed that a resident of Richmond's West End contracted the virus. He said officials are waiting for additional tests at the CDC before calling it a confirmed case of the mosquito-borne illness.

Dr. Stroube said the man, who he did not identify, exhibited typical symptoms of the mild form of the disease, such as fever, malaise and severe headaches. He said the man has recovered from the illness and has returned to work.

It is not known whether the man contracted the virus at his home.

Dr. Michael Welch of the Richmond Department of Public Health said the man "spent a lot of time outside, not only in his own back yard but also in the Tidewater area, playing a lot of golf, all over Virginia."

"We will never know" if he contracted the virus in Richmond, Dr. Welch said.

However, Richmond's West End is as likely as anywhere else to have been the source of the virus, said David Gaines, an entomologist with the state Department of Health. The West End "was where the West Nile virus was first detected in this area," he said.

Mr. Gaines said infected birds have been found in the area, which he said has an abundance of mosquito-breeding habitats where the virus can thrive.

The city has been spraying pesticide and applying larvicide to storm sewers, Mr. Gaines said, but he said that one mosquito species that carries the virus, the Asian tiger mosquito, breeds in yards where the city is unable to take any control measures.

"One cannot take care of tiger mosquitoes in everyone's back yard," he said. "People have to police their own back yards."

Dr. Stroube said that given the number of indications of West Nile virus activity in Virginia, a human case was inevitable, and more cases are likely.

In particular, he said, Northern Virginia has had "intensive" virus activity, which means "there are likely to be human cases in Northern Virginia."

State laboratory officials said they have received 65 human blood samples to test for the virus.

Of those cases, 45 have tested negative, the one sample reported yesterday tested positive, and 19 are still being tested.

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