Employer plans to test workers for malaria

Infected mosquitoes found near grass farm on island in Montgomery County

October 10, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

The owner of a company that raises grass on the uninhabited Montgomery County island where malaria-infected mosquitoes have been found plans to have the 20 employees who worked on the island tested for malaria.

William Brockett, who owns Virginia Beef Corp., said that about a dozen Mexican migrant workers and up to eight other employees who cut grass on Selden Island will have blood tests performed to determine if they have malaria.

He said that work has ended for the season on the island, where grasses are harvested for sale to nurseries, golf courses and corporations for lawns.

He added that officials didn't insist on tests, but that he wants to ensure the safety of his workers and the public. "They're just going to be tested as a precaution," Brockett said.

Federal researchers found malaria-infected mosquitoes in traps set last week on Selden Island. Health officials said it was the first time that infected mosquitoes had been found in Maryland in at least 30 years.

The mosquitoes were found after two teen-agers in nearby Sterling, Va., became sick, and their illness was diagnosed as malaria. Pools of infected mosquitoes also were found last month in the Virginia suburbs.

The Selden Island traps contained mosquitoes with the same type of malaria parasite that sickened the teen-agers, a less lethal form than the parasite that kills more than 1 million people worldwide each year, health officials said.

Yesterday, Virginia and Maryland health officials also asked anyone with malaria's flulike symptoms, which include fever, chills and nausea, to see a doctor. They also recommended that anyone who frequented the island, or the Virginia suburbs where the teen-agers were infected, to be alert for symptoms.

"If you feel sick, see a doctor and if you were in the area and could potentially become infected, be aware of the risk," said Dr. David Goodfriend, health director in Loudoun County, Va.

Goodfriend said it is not necessary for anyone who frequented the area to see a physician if they are feeling well.

Malaria spreads when a mosquito takes blood from an infected human and passes the parasite that causes the disease to another human. While up to 1,200 people in the United States contract malaria each year, most cases originate overseas.

Officials in Montgomery County said it could be several days before County Executive Douglas M. Duncan decides whether spraying is necessary.

Virginia health officials have scheduled a public meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Potomac Falls High School, 46400 Algonkian Parkway in Sterling.

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