Mosquito spraying is not yet an issue

No evidence found that West Nile virus present, official says

September 04, 2001|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Though a dead crow found in Finksburg last month tested positive for West Nile virus, Carroll County has no plans to institute widespread mosquito controls.

There's no evidence that the disease has infiltrated the county's mosquito population, said Charles Zeleski, county director of environmental health. The crow could easily have been infected elsewhere and then found its way to Finksburg where it died, he said.

Like many counties in the state, Carroll has no agreement with the Maryland Department of Agriculture to provide for regular mosquito spraying. The county's relative lack of open water means the mosquito population has never been large enough to prove a serious irritant, Zeleski said.

However, the southward spread of West Nile has cast the mosquito issue in a new light. Several months ago, Department of Agriculture officials met with county mayors to outline steps that could be taken should the disease appear in Carroll.

The probability of a human outbreak remains low to moderate, according to the department scale, but if one in 1,000 mosquitoes tests positive for the virus, or if a large animal such as a horse becomes infected, the state might recommend attacking mosquito larvae with insecticide or spraying adult mosquitoes in high-risk residential areas.

Should a human case appear, heavier spraying would likely follow and the governor could declare a public health emergency.

The West Nile virus can be transferred to people by mosquito bites after the insects bite infected birds. Most people infected with West Nile experience no symptoms, but a small number suffer from headaches, skin rashes, swollen lymph glands and body aches. In less than 1 percent of infections, people may experience high fever, disorientation, coma and a potentially fatal inflammation of the brain. The elderly and people with impaired immune systems are more vulnerable.

The virus is common in humans and birds in Africa and the Middle East, but it was not detected in the United States until 1999, when 62 people in the New York area contracted serious cases of the disease. Seven died. Last year, 17 people in the New York area became seriously ill with the disease, and one died. One death has been tied to the disease this year: a 71-year-old Atlanta woman who died Aug. 11.

Zeleski said the county Bureau of Environmental Health receives many more questions about mosquitoes and standing water than it did before the discovery of the infected bird in Finksburg. The office has probably received more mosquito calls in the two weeks since the finding of the bird was announced than it used to receive in a year, he said.

The county will help residents check standing water sources, such as stagnant ponds or old tires, for mosquito infestation. The state Department of Agriculture will help residents check standing water sources for mosquitoes and mosquito larvae.

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