- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 3, 2002

Local health authorities want residents to participate in West Nile virus prevention efforts to counter the increased risk of human infection this year.

"I absolutely believe there is a greater risk this year for human infection in Virginia," said Suzanne Jenkins, assistant state epidemiologist for the Virginia Department of Health. "People have to play an active role in preventing mosquito-breeding sites to ward off the risk."

Mosquitoes are believed to spread the disease from birds to humans. Several mosquito pools have tested positive for the virus, which claimed the lives of three persons in Maryland last year. Although no local human infections have been reported this year, 154 birds have tested positive for the virus in Virginia, 57 in Maryland and 46 in the District.

An infected bird was found last week on the White House lawn, leading D.C. health authorities to spray mosquito larvicide in the area to kill the larvae.

"We have a targeted response. We larvicide about an eight-block area where the bird was found," said Peggy Keller, chief of the District's animal-disease prevention division.

To prevent the virus from spreading, health authorities have set up several awareness programs. Virginia has aired radio and television spots on the virus, the District has been distributing fliers, and in Montgomery County volunteers have been knocking on doors to educate residents on prevention.

Residents are being told not to leave standing water around the house and in their yards. A single bottle cap filled with water can breed hundreds of mosquito larvae, health officials say. People are also being advised to wear clothing that covers the arms and legs when outdoors after dark to prevent mosquito bites.

On a larger scale, scientists are working to create a human vaccine. One for horses, also at a high risk for the virus, was developed last year and is in use.

"The West Nile Virus is here to stay," said Tracy DuVernoy, chief of rabies and vector-borne diseases at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

She said that although people of any age are susceptible to the virus, "the elderly are likely to have more significant illnesses, like encephalitis or aseptic meningitis." People with compromised immune systems are also at greater risk.

Symptoms range from headache, fever and body ache with a body rash to swollen lymph glands. More severe symptoms include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, occasional convulsions and paralysis.

In younger people, the virus often produces few or no symptoms.

The virus has spread rapidly around the country since it first infected and killed several birds at the Bronx Zoo in 1999. This year, 36 states and the District have reported infections.

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