- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 26, 2002

A recent explosion in the region's mosquito population is increasing residents' risk of contracting West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne diseases, agriculture officials in Maryland and Virginia say.
In metropolitan areas like Baltimore and the Washington suburbs, the increase is almost three-fold, said Cyrus Lesser, chief of the mosquito-control division of Maryland's Department of Agriculture.
"Because of the drought and then the recent rains, mosquito season has been compressed into a single month this year, and there has been an explosion of mosquitoes," Mr. Lesser said.
In Virginia, the increase in the mosquito population has been "dramatic" along the Eastern Shore and less significant in other areas, said David Gaines, public health etymologist.
Word of an increase in mosquitoes came as the District yesterday confirmed that a 55-year-old Northwest man who died Sept. 9 had the virus. The man was admitted to a hospital last month and was characterized as a high-risk patient with a severely compromised immune system due to chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
Six persons in the District have been diagnosed with the virus.
Maryland has reported six infected persons, two of whom have died, although results from confirmation tests are pending. One of the casualties was an 87-year-old woman in Bethesda; the other was a 65-year-old man in the Seat Pleasant.
In Virginia, which has reported 16 human infections, a 53-year-old woman with diabetes in Loudoun County died this week after being infected with the West Nile virus.
The virus has infected more than 2,000 people in 32 states this year and killed 98. Researchers have recently reported the virus apparently can be spread through blood transfusions if someone donates blood shortly after becoming infected, and that it occasionally causes a poliolike paralysis.
Health officials have said the virus does not pose a threat to most people and harms mostly the elderly, the young and people with compromised immune systems.
Symptoms of the mild form of the disease include fever, malaise and headaches. More severe symptoms include high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, occasional convulsions and paralysis.
Agriculture officials said more aggressive mosquito species, like the saltmarsh mosquito, have resurfaced along the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia, and have been found in Baltimore.
Mr. Lesser said this is the time of the year when the risk for West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne diseases is higher. "In the late summer and early fall months, the numbers of migrating birds are higher," he said, noting that birds spread the disease farther and faster than mosquitoes.
Mr. Lesser said the Maryland Department of Agriculture has an active program to kill mosquito larva and is spraying at the request of some communities to kill adult mosquitoes.
The District also has been using larvicide since April, said Peggy Keller, chief of the District's animal disease prevention division, although no spraying has been done so far. "Statistics indicate that larviciding works better because spraying can be problematic for people with respiratory problems," she said.
J.B. Hanson, a spokesman for Maryland's Department of Health and Human Services, said residents could help bring down the mosquito population by emptying standing water around their house and in wading pools, among other things. "It takes only an inch-and-a-half of water to breed mosquitoes," he said.

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