- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 7, 2002

A plague of dead birds in the past six days in Northwest has raised fears of human sickness, and a D.C. Council member has implored officials to fight the West Nile virus more aggressively.
"I watched a blue jay try to die last night and hide in the weeds," said Joe O'Malley, 54, a lawyer who lives in the 2900 block of McKinley Street. "It's a horrible thing to watch a blue jay die."
Humans get the virus from mosquitoes. Dead birds, especially crows, testing positive, health experts say, is an indication that diseased mosquitos are in the area.
"To date, there have been no human cases of WNV in the District," reported Vera Jackson, spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Health.
Nationally, the virus has sickened 90 persons and killed five this year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
"With news reports from other parts of the country about human deaths from West Nile virus and the large number of birds particularly in Northwest Washington testing positive for the virus, it is critical that the government take all possible action to reduce the threat here," said Council member Kathleen Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat.
The Department of Health has arranged for testing of dead crows, blue jays, hawks and eagles. More crows die from the virus than any of the other bird species that have tested positive.
Mosquitoes, not birds, transmit the virus to humans, so health officials advise residents and businesses to eliminate pools of water, where mosquitoes tend to breed, or treat them with larvicide.
So far, 61 birds, including a crow found on the White House lawn, have tested positive. Most died in Northwest, and on Monday, health officials stopped testing dead birds found in ZIP codes 20007, 20008, 20011 and 20016 in Northwest, where at least 20 birds tested positive.
The D.C. Health Department still encourages residents in other ZIP codes to call 535-2323 to report the location of dead birds and also to dispose of the bodies themselves or call the Department of Public Works at 727-1000.
In the 5900 block of McKinley St. NW, 20015, five blue jays and two sparrows have died in the last six days, Mr. O'Malley said, but D.C. health officials have not tested those birds.
That is a sore point with Mr. O'Malley, who tried repeatedly to have the D.C. Department of Health pick up, test and dispose of the birds. He eventually called the CDC in Atlanta, also without success.
"They don't answer the phone on weekends," Mr. O'Malley said. "They think the birds die only from 8 to 5 during the work week."
Mrs. Patterson said several constituents complained that health department voice-mail boxes were full and that officials did not arrange to pick up dead birds for testing or disposal.
She urged Mayor Anthony A. Williams to provide information about the virus and the District's actions to combat it.
She also urged the National Park Service to treat standing water in parks to kill larvae, which can mature into adult mosquitoes within a week.
At 7 a.m. Sunday, Mr. O'Malley found a young blue jay dead on a slab behind his home.
"I saw it alive at sunrise," and it seemed normal and well, said Mr. O'Malley, who has lived in the McKinley house 17 years.
Three blue jays and a sparrow were found in the previous four days by Michael J. Gaddis, a cable TV technician, who has lived 40 of his 48 years in the home two doors away.
"Never before," Mr. Gaddis said, has he seen such a rash of dying birds. "And the mosquitos haven't really been that bad this year."
Of the last 15 virus-infected birds, which included one blue jay, nine were found in Northwest. Three each came from Northeast and Southeast.
Last year, 360 birds and three mosquito pools tested positive for the West Nile virus in the District, Mrs. Jackson said.
Young people bitten by infected mosquitoes may get a mild fever, headache, muscle aches and flu-like symptoms.
Elderly people and the very young are most vulnerable. Without a drug or vaccine to treat West Nile, patients can experience potentially fatal brain swelling.
The virus was first found in North America in the summer of 1999 in New York City and has been moving west since. The New York outbreak caused seven deaths and sickened 55 others. All five of this year's deaths have been in Louisiana.
Yesterday, health officials in Illinois reported the first known human case of West Nile virus in the state.
The 22-year-old woman, a student from Maryland, reported minor symptoms fever, achy muscles and a slight rash and has recovered, said Dr. John Lumpkin, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The student spent eight weeks in Illinois, living in Cook County and working in DuPage County.
The student, who was not identified, went home after becoming ill July 26, and her bout of West Nile virus was confirmed yesterday by Maryland health officials.
Because she was living in Illinois throughout the incubation period, officials are certain she contracted it in Illinois.
From 1999 through 2001, the West Nile virus sickened 149 persons and killed 18, according to the CDC.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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