Death of woman, 87, thought to be state's first 2002 West Nile fatality

August 30, 2002|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

An 87-year-old Montgomery County woman has become the first Maryland resident to die this year from an illness attributed to the mosquito-borne West Nile virus.

The unidentified Bethesda woman died Tuesday of encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, after a nine-day illness, county health officials said.

Preliminary tests for the West Nile virus were positive, and further tests are expected to confirm those results.

Her illness was the second this year in Maryland linked to West Nile. On Aug. 1, West Nile encephalitis was diagnosed in an 80-year-old Baltimore man. He survived.

Six human cases of West Nile infection were reported in the state last year. Three of the patients died.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan reminded residents yesterday to protect themselves from the virus. "We need to be diligent about eliminating mosquito breeding sites, wearing protective clothing and using mosquito-repellent containing DEET," he said.

Most healthy people are unaffected by the virus. A few will suffer mild flu-like symptoms. Less than 1 percent, especially the elderly and others with weakened immune systems, might develop a serious illness. Symptoms include headache, high fever, stiff neck, confusion, fatigue, and tremors.

The West Nile virus appears to be especially active this summer in Montgomery County. Eighty-nine birds have tested positive for the West Nile virus, more than in any Maryland county.

The virus has been detected in 18 of Maryland's 24 jurisdictions this year. Only St. Mary's and Caroline counties, and the lower Eastern Shore, have reported no infected birds.

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