- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

An 87-year-old Bethesda woman has died after being infected with the West Nile virus, Maryland health officials announced yesterday.

The woman, who died Tuesday, was diagnosed with encephalitis, a swelling of the brain that can be caused by the virus. Subsequent tests confirmed a high probability for the virus, although final confirmation will be available only after further testing, officials said.

The woman, whom officials did not identify, suffered from unspecified pre-existing medical conditions that might have made her susceptible to the virus, said Montgomery County health officer Dr. Carol Garvey.

"She was not in the best of health prior to her illness," Dr. Garvey said.

Health officials renewed calls for precautions to prevent infection by the virus, which is transmitted from birds to humans by mosquitoes.

"We are reminding people to do what they can to avoid infection, to eliminate mosquito breeding sites, wear protective clothing and use mosquito repellant with DEET," said Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Health Department.

This is the first death from West Nile virus in the Washington region this year. Last year, three persons in Maryland died from the virus, including a 76-year-old man in Prince George's County.

Maryland reported this month that a Baltimore man was infected with the virus. He was treated and released from the hospital.

This year, 281 birds of the 1,000 tested for the virus in the state have tested positive, as have 29 mosquito pools.

This month, D.C. health officials announced that a 55-year-old man in the city was infected with the virus. Virginia has reported three infections this year, including a 65-year-old man in Springfield in Fairfax County.

The virus, first found among birds in New York's Bronx Zoo in 1999, has spread to 26 states and the District during the past three years. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimates that 555 persons have been infected nationwide by the virus this year and 28 have died.

Louisiana reported 205 infections this year and eight deaths; Illinois reported 79 infections with five casualties; and Mississippi has reported 91 infections with three dead.

Although the virus can infect anyone, it usually causes significant symptoms only among the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. In younger people, the virus produces few or no symptoms. Symptoms include headaches, fever, body aches, rashes and swollen lymph glands. More severe symptoms include high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, occasional convulsions and paralysis.

In a joint statement issued yesterday, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and county council President Steven A. Silverman stressed the need for residents to guard against mosquito bites.

"We also need to look out for each other and check in on neighbors, especially the elderly," the statement said.

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