- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2003

Maryland health officials know that the West Nile virus will re-emerge this summer, but the combination of a long, cold winter and an exceedingly wet spring has made them unsure about how bad an outbreak to expect.

Some officials said yesterday that the number of mosquitoes, which contract the virus from birds and transmit it to humans by biting, may be diminished by the persistent winter weather. Others say the rainy spring has left so much standing water that mosquitoes will have even more breeding grounds.

Regardless, there will be an outbreak, and health officials advise residents to take precautions against mosquito bites and infection.

“We know it is endemic to Maryland,” said Karen Black, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “We know it is here.”

Most people infected with West Nile virus will show no symptoms of illness, and only a few will reveal mild manifestations. However, about 1 percent will develop such severe symptoms as coma, convulsions, high fever, paralysis, muscle weakness, stupor and tremors.

The virus can be fatal in rare cases. People over 50 have the highest risk of becoming seriously ill, according to health officials.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have not yet reported a human West Nile case this year, though Virginia health officials have detected the virus in two dead crows found recently in Fauquier County.

Miss Black said Maryland is not testing dead birds this year because health officials have no doubt about the presence of the disease.

The test were conducted in previous years to determine the concentration of the virus. It’s too soon to tell whether that will be necessary this year, she said. People reporting dead birds to health officers are being instructed to dispose them off like they would other dead animals.

In the District, where six pools of infected mosquitoes were found last year, health officials are not testing dead birds this year because they consider West Nile endemic in the region.

Last year, West Nile was detected in all but four states in the continental United States and was confirmed in humans in 41 states. In Virginia, 29 persons tested positive for the virus and two died. The District had 34 human cases and at least one death, according to the CDC.

In Maryland, 36 persons last year tested positive for West Nile and seven died. Prince George’s and Montgomery counties each had seven cases last year and Anne Arundel County had eight.

Health officials found infected mosquitoes in 46 breeding pools in seven jurisdictions, including 12 pools in Prince George’s County, three pools in Montgomery County and two in Anne Arundel County, according to the state health department.

The virus season had been slow to start because of the cold weather, Miss Black said, but the frequent rains require increased vigilance in removing standing water where mosquitoes can breed. She urged people to remove anything that can collect standing water outdoors, such as children’s toys, trash can lids, hubcaps and tires.

Other than removing potential mosquito-breeding sites, she suggested avoiding outdoor activity during dusk and dawn, which are peak feeding times for mosquitoes. Also, use insect repellant containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) outdoors and wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants for protection against mosquito bites.

West Nile virus was first found in the country in 1999 and has since spread nationwide. It had been found in humans, birds and other animals most typically in Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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