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West Nile virus efforts intensify as D.C. confirms human case

(Published August 12, 2002)

By THOMAS A. NEELEY

Staff Writer

The D.C. Department of Health has announced plans to focus more effort on curbing the Districtís mosquito population as a means of combating West Nile virus.

In a shift of procedure, the department will no longer test dead birds for the virus since health officials determined that the virus is now endemic to the area. The announcement came one day before confirmation of the first human case of West Nile virus contracted by a D.C. resident.

The 55-year-old man, whose name was withheld by officials for privacy reasons, lives in Ward 3 and was undergoing chemotherapy at the National Institutes of Health in suburban Maryland for leukemia when doctors found he had contracted West Nile virus.

People who are most susceptible to the virus are young children, the elderly and individuals who have weakened immune systems, such as those undergoing chemotherapy.

Health officials stressed that West Nile virus is not contagious and cannot be contracted by human-to-avian or human-to-human contact. Officials said it is safe for residents to dispose of dead birds while wearing protective gloves, but they encourage residents to still report the location where dead crows, blue jays, hawks and eagles are found to the Citywide Call Center at (202) 727-1000.

The health department plans to increase its larvacide efforts in Ward 3 to inhibit mosquito breeding, in addition to similar efforts made in the other wards. West Nile virus is contracted from mosquito bites and, in the most serious cases, may cause encephalitis in infected animals and humans.

Health officials announced Aug. 5 that 40 mosquito pools in the District have tested positive for the virus. The pools of about 25 mosquitoes each were collected from Fort McNair, Rock Creek Park, the 3100 block of Connecticut Avenue NW and at the Old Soldierís Home.

Councilwoman Sandra C. Allen, D-Ward 8, who chairs the councilís Committee on Human Services, expressed her concern about the virus and, in a written statement, urged residents to follow the preventative guidelines being distributed by the health department.

Health officials stressed protection and prevention safeguards to reduce the chances of being exposed to the virus. Residents are asked to avoid being outside during peak mosquito hours, wear long-sleeved clothing, and use insect repellant with 35 percent DEET. Health officials warned that small children and expectant mothers should not use DEET.

Officials also recommend that residents empty pools of standing water, which are breeding sites for mosquitoes.

Residents with questions or concerns about West Nile virus may call the health department at (202) 535-2323.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator