Virus linked to West Nile kills Carroll woman, 77

Death is county's first to be tied to disease

October 03, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare and Jennifer McMenamin | Mary Gail Hare and Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

A 77-year-old Sykesville woman has died of a West Nile virus-related illness, becoming the first county resident ever and the fourth Maryland resident this year whose death has been linked to the mosquito-spread disease, county and state health officials said yesterday.

An 89-year-old Finksburg woman also has tested positive for the virus, and doctors have said that her prognosis is poor, said Larry L. Leitch, director of the Carroll County Health Department.

The Sykesville woman was admitted Sept. 14 to Carroll County General Hospital with symptoms of the virus, which is spread to humans through infected mosquitoes.

She died at the Westminster hospital Saturday and hospital tests confirmed late Tuesday that her death was caused by the virus, Leitch said.

The victim, who had been bitten by a mosquito, suffered gastrointestinal symptoms associated with the disease and became progressively worse. She developed encephalitis, which caused brain swelling, Leitch said.

The Finksburg woman was admitted Sept. 10 to Carroll County General Hospital and was transferred yesterday to a nursing home, where she is living on a ventilator.

"The state lab has to confirm both of these instances, but the hospital lab, which we consider to be very accurate, confirmed both cases," Leitch said. "We are confident in saying this is West Nile."

Leitch said he expects results from the state lab tests in both cases early next week.

Twenty-three human West Nile cases - including 15 confirmed and eight probable instances - have been reported in Maryland this year.

That number takes into account three fatalities confirmed by state testing, including a 66-year-old Queen Anne's County woman whose West Nile-related death last month was confirmed yesterday by state health department officials.

Two Baltimore residents also have died of West Nile virus-related illnesses this year.

A 63-year-old woman died last month of encephalitis and an 83-year-old woman, who had been listed as a probable case, died of complications related to the disease.

Last year, the state reported 36 West Nile infections in humans, and seven people died.

"This is another disease that America will have to deal with," Leitch said. "It is here to stay."

Spokesman J.B. Hanson said the jump in the number of equine cases reflects that "West Nile virus is endemic now. We'll continue to see horses and people who end up testing positive."

Leitch informed the county commissioners yesterday of the two cases, telling them that his staff will develop a plan to address the virus next year. To control spread of the disease, the county might consider spraying for mosquitoes and better enforcing regulations on standing water, he said.

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