Woman dies after W. Nile infection

Catonsville resident, 68, is fifth victim this year

October 17, 2002|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

A Catonsville woman who had complained recently about being bitten by mosquitoes while watering her garden has died of the mosquito-borne West Nile encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.

Betty Lee Bittel, 68, died Tuesday evening at St. Agnes HealthCare, 10 days after her daughter found her lying unresponsive at home.

Her death is the fifth this year among the 19 Marylanders who have tested positive for West Nile infections.

The daughter, Lisa Clark, said Bittel was diagnosed in 1999 with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and was in remission after her second round of chemotherapy ended in July.

Dr. Michael S. Ballo, a clinical pathologist at St. Agnes, said people older than age 50, and those whose immune systems are suppressed by chemotherapy, are especially susceptible to serious West Nile infections.

"Chemotherapy agents cause a decrease in T-cells, which are useful in fighting certain types of infections," he said. "The issue all these patients face ... is the risk of secondary infection."

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