West Nile fight grows

City set to spray for mosquitoes after infected bird found

Treatment time is tricky

Federal Hill leader has safety concerns

September 24, 2000|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

Following the discovery in Baltimore's Federal Hill of a crow infected with the West Nile virus, the state is gearing up to spray for mosquitoes as early as Wednesday morning in a 2-mile radius that includes the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards.

The state had announced earlier that spraying would begin in the city yesterday. The delay is being blamed on rainy weather - which lessens the potency of the pesticide used - and the complexities of spraying along densely populated city streets.

"We can't come waltzing down the street spraying outdoor diners," Tony Evans, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said yesterday.

Spraying of the pesticide permethrin was done at dusk in parts of Howard and Baltimore counties Friday. Officials won't know whether it worked until next week, when they do a mosquito census.

In the city, spraying will be done about 3 a.m., a busy time for mosquitoes but less so for humans. City officials will help plan the route, Evans said. If done at dusk Tuesday, for example, fans at the Baltimore Orioles' home game against the Toronto Blue Jays could be showered inadvertently.

The agriculture department is targeting the culex mosquito, the species associated with spreading the virus, which can cause a potentially deadly form of encephalitis.

Three birds infected with the virus have been found dead in Maryland this year, but no mosquitoes captured in Maryland, and no humans, have tested positive for the virus, Evans said.

Last year, seven people in New York died from the virus. Children and the elderly are most susceptible.

Callers worried

The West Nile hot line at the state Department of Natural Resources continued to be inundated with calls.

Hundreds of calls came in yesterday, about four times as fast as they did late Thursday and Friday, said J. B. Hanson, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Most callers voiced general fear of the virus or reported dead birds, many of which have been dead too long for accurate testing. Officials tried to allay callers' fears, explaining there have not been widespread reports of the virus.

"I don't think there's that much to worry about at all," said Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city's health commissioner.

Officials say the pesticide is safe, but Bonnie Crockett said she isn't so sure.

President of the Federal Hill South Neighborhood Association, Crockett walks her dog, Chance, two or three times a day down Warren Avenue, where an infected crow was found dead Monday.

Yesterday, she wore a pair of long pants to avoid mosquito bites and planned to wear bug spray if she went out again.

"I'm not comfortable with spraying poison in the air," she said. "I find that much more frightening than one dead bird."

When her association meets Tuesday night, she hopes someone from the city can attend to quell any concerns her neighbors may have.

Beilenson said the city plans a door-to-door leafleting campaign in the affected neighborhoods tomorrow or Tuesday advising residents to stay inside for the 30 minutes the spray stays in the air and to turn off their air conditioners overnight so the pesticide doesn't get pulled inside.

The Maryland West Nile hot line is 1-888-584-3110. The National Pesticide Telecommunications Network number is 1-800-858-7378.

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