- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 19, 2003

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — In the earliest appearance of mosquitoes infected with the West Nile virus in Maryland since it invaded the United States in 1999, officials say they have trapped infected insects in northern Anne Arundel County.

The disease killed seven Maryland residents in 2002, and, after a rainy spring, mosquitoes are a big problem this year. The demand to spray mosquitoes is so high that officials have closed 13 counties to new requests.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a year like this,” said Cyrus Lesser, chief of the state Department of Agriculture’s mosquito-control division, who has been in the business since 1970. “We’re just looking at a lot more work than we can handle.”

No human West Nile illness has been reported in Maryland this year. Last year 36 persons were stricken and seven died. Thirty Maryland horses were stricken and 13 died.

The virus is active in all but four of the continental states. Three human cases have been reported nationwide this year: one in South Carolina and two in Texas. Last year more than 4,100 cases were reported. Two hundred eighty-four were fatal.

Maryland’s first West Nile-infected mosquitoes for 2003 turned up among 40 Culex salinarius mosquitoes trapped July 1 at a Maryland Port Authority dredge spoil site near Cox Creek, just south of the Baltimore line.

“Unfortunately, it’s the earliest we have ever recovered a virus-carrying mosquito in the 10 years we’ve been doing surveillance for mosquito-borne viruses,” Mr. Lesser said.

Usually they don’t show up until late July.

It’s not yet clear what their early appearance means. “Only a very small percentage of mosquitoes are actually carrying the virus at any time, so to collect one is significant in itself,” he said.

“We do anticipate we’re going to see more positive mosquito pools this year, simply because there are a lot more mosquitoes out there this year, and over a wider geographical area.”

The Cox Creek site never yielded West Nile-infected mosquitoes before.

Residents of the area, especially those older than 50, should take precautions to avoid being bitten, Mr. Lesser said. But so should people elsewhere. “Mosquitoes carrying the virus are in a large part of the state right now,” he said. “We just happen to have found it in that site.”

Tracy S. DuVernoy, acting state public health veterinarian, urged everyone to be “proactive.” That means minimizing standing water that mosquitoes use to breed, applying repellent when outdoors and making sure that window and door screens are intact.

The Agriculture Department said the demand for mosquito spraying is 20 percent above normal statewide, with 2,200 communities participating. Stretched thin, the agency has closed more than half the state to new requests for service, including Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s, St. Mary’s, Talbot, Washington, Wicomico and Worcester counties.

The West Nile virus is carried by birds and transmitted by mosquitoes to other birds, horses and people. Most infected people experience no illness or mild flulike symptoms.

Less than 1 percent have West Nile encephalitis or meningitis, diseases that are potentially debilitating or fatal inflammations of the brain or spinal cord. Older people and those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable.

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