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Ward 3 leads city in avian West Nile virus

(Published July 29, 2002)

By THOMAS A. NEELEY

Staff Writer

D.C. health officials are asking residents and businesses for help to eliminate standing water on their property – potential mosquito-breeding places – to reduce the risk of West Nile virus in the District.

The virus, which is transmitted through bites from infected mosquitoes, has been found this year in dead birds picked up in all parts of the city except Wards 5 and 8. Last year, most infected birds were found in Ward 5.

West Nile virus can cause a form of encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, which may be fatal. But D.C. Department of Health officials emphasize that there have been no human cases of the virus in the District this year. Health officials say most infections caused by the virus cause mild, flu-like symptoms.

The number of dead birds in the District that have tested positive for West Nile virus had increased to 47 by July 26, officials said. The week of July 13 witnessed the largest increase to date when 22 birds tested positive for the virus.

Nearly all infected birds have been found in Northwest Washington, primarily in an area of Ward 3 centered around the National Zoo and Connecticut Avenue. Last year, most cases were reported in Northeast Washington, primarily in the Brookland area.

Two of the infected birds were found last week on the White House lawn, city health officials said. Zoo officials recently reported the deaths of several captive birds were caused by the virus.

According to the health department’s procedures, every reported dead bird from an area is tested. Once five birds test positive within one zip code, the department confirms that West Nile virus is in that area. Afterward, every 10th bird that is picked up by authorities is tested since the virus is already confirmed in that area.

Health officials said the department averages 65 to 110 calls a day from persons reporting dead birds and requesting information or assistance. Officials urge residents to report dead or dying crows, blue jays, hawks and eagles to (202) 535-2323 for pick up. Residents are being cautioned to not handle the dead birds.

Cases of West Nile virus occur primarily in the late summer or early fall. The federal Centers for Disease Control reports that less than 1 percent of mosquitoes in an affected area carry the disease. Less than 1 percent of those carrying the virus are able to pass it on to humans, the CDC says.

Health officials note that those most prone to infection are young children, persons older than 50 and those with suppressed immune systems.

The CDC reports that there have been 18 human deaths attributed to West Nile virus nationwide since 1999. No deaths have been reported this year.

D.C. health officials said eight individuals in the District have been tested for West Nile virus, but all the tests came back with negative results.

In addition to asking residents and businesses to eliminate mosquito-breeding sites on their property, officials said they have been using larvicide to kill larvae in mosquito pools and have been identifying sites for collecting mosquitoes for testing.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator