- The Washington Times - Monday, September 16, 2002

West Nile virus is suspected of infecting four more Virginians last week, increasing the need for residents and local and state governments to take precautions against mosquitoes.
Arlington County public health officials have confirmed three most recent "probable" West Nile infections. Cases are listed as probable or suspected until tests, which can take up to two weeks, are confirmed by Centers for Disease Control and Protection.
Three suspected Arlington cases involve an 84-year-old woman hospitalized since Sept. 4, a 64-year-old man and a 53-year-old man who was treated in an emergency room and sent home.
On Thursday, Fairfax County reported an 80-year-old woman was tested and found to be probably infected with West Nile.
"That there are now human cases in the county should cause all residents to redouble their efforts at eliminating potential mosquito breeding areas around their homes and to take appropriate protective measures when outside," said Dr. Susan Allen, public health director for Arlington.
Health authorities across the country have urged people to take precautions when outdoors, but medical officials point out that the virus, which has killed 67 Americans this year, is usually dangerous only to those with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly or the infirm.
Local governments have been spraying storm sewers and pools which are likely mosquito breeding nests.
Such precautions must be taken soon after heavy rains because breeding pools are quickly formed.
So far this year, there have been 11 cases of West Nile detected in Virginia, five in Maryland and three in the District of Columbia.
Spraying for mosquitoes has become more important in the last month since a 15-year-old boy and a 19-year-old girl in Loudoun County were stricken by malaria.
Different species of mosquitos spread malaria and West Nile. Medical officials speculated that the anopheles mosquito, which carries malaria, bit someone who had traveled from tropical and subtropical countries such as Africa, then bit the boy and girl.
Worldwide, malaria typically sickens 300 million people and kills one million.
The West Nile virus is carried by birds that have been bitten by a West Nile-bearing mosquito.
"This is a bird disease, not a human disease," said John Bianchi, of the National Audubon Society.
West Nile has been widely publicized this year because it is a relatively new disease for North America. Malaria has been around, especially in swampy southern states, for many years.
West Nile first showed up in this country in 1999, killing seven in New York City.
This year, the number of cases has skyrocketed.
A Los Angeles woman was the first reported case on the West Coast. Like many people, she has recovered.
Doctors have said many people, especially healthy young people, have probably been mosquito-bitten, slightly sickened and unaware they had the virus.
So far this year, there have been 1,438 confirmed West Nile cases, with 67 deaths.
It is estimated that 140,000 people were infected but just didn't know it.
In Loudoun County last summer, there were only four dead birds found to have been infected with West Nile, and no infected mosquitos were found.
In August this year, 36 birds were found infected along with three groups of mosquitos.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said last week he suspected that terrorists might have caused the West Nile epidemic. He asked the government to investigate the possibility of "something that's being tested as a biological weapon against us."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said the virus was not a likely weapon because it must be transmitted through birds.
Sen. Leahy, who was the target last year of one of the anthrax-laden envelopes that closed a Senate office building for several weeks, has since said he had no specific evidence linking West Nile to terrorists.

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