State officials will expand a spraying campaign aimed at the West Nile virus, following the discovery of an infected crow in Baltimore's Federal Hill neighborhood.
The spraying last night was done in southwest Baltimore City and parts of Howard County. It could be extended tonight to cover as much as two square miles of the city, according to a spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
The target: the Culex mosquito, the species associated with spreading the virus, which can cause a potentially deadly form of encephalitis.
A spasm of worry over the virus kept state and local officials busy answering questions yesterday, as they prepared for night spraying south of Baltimore.
"We've had over 200 calls since Thursday night," said Sgt. John Tugwell, operations manager for the West Nile phone hot line at the Department of Natural Resources. People were calling to report dead birds, and "we've done some hand-holding. A few are panicked," he said.
Pending dry weather, the state planned last night to spray pesticide from trucks in two neighborhoods in Columbia and Relay in Baltimore County. Two dead crows found in those neighborhoods were carrying the virus, the first confirmed cases in Maryland.
Residents in those areas largely supported the state's response yesterday. But at least one Howard County woman - whose daughter attends school not far from the spraying area - was concerned about the effort.
"All children are sensitive; some are hypersensitive," said Veronika Carella, of western Howard County, whose daughter is sensitive to pesticides. She complained that there had been "minimal notification" about the spraying, and she questioned whether it would be effective.
"Mosquitoes are smart enough not to stay in the road when the truck comes down the road," Carella said.
City Health Commissioner Peter L. Beilenson called the human health risk from spraying "extremely minimal."
Although the West Nile virus has been linked to deaths and illnesses in the Northeast, there are still no confirmed cases of human exposure to the virus in Maryland, officials said.
The crows found in Columbia and Relay were the first to show positive for the virus in more than 250 tests done on dead crows and raptors since May, said J. B. Hanson, spokesman for the Maryland department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Another 3,000 tests of mosquito pools proved negative during the same period, he said.
A homeowner who found one of the crows said his wife had to make repeated calls to Howard County officials to have the bird tested. "The first response she got from Animal Control was, 'Well, just put it in a bag. Put it in the trash,'" said Don Oliver, of Columbia.
The Baltimore crow was found barely alive Sept. 16 in the 300 block of Warren Street by a South Baltimore resident, Glendening spokesman Michael Morrill said.
The bird, which died after being found, was picked up by the city health department Sept. 18 and delivered the next day to Health and Mental Hygiene, which confirmed the results late yesterday.
Tugwell said the state is looking for birds of all species that are either dying or have died within the past 24 hours. Any longer and they are too decomposed to test.
The hot line will continue for another 6-8 weeks, he said, when cold weather should kill all the remaining adult mosquitoes.
The Howard and Baltimore county health departments said they have received some calls, but reported a fairly low level of concern so far. And Relay Elementary school Principal James F. Skarbek said that "people are responding very reasonably," though the school is just five blocks from where the dead crow was found.
Health department workers in both counties distributed hundreds of fliers Thursday night in the affected neighborhoods about the trucks that were to spray a pesticide near their homes.
Morrill said the state will basically follow federal Centers for Disease Control protocol, which requires spraying a two-square-mile area around the location where a bird is found. Baltimore's spray area may be reduced because mosquitoes are not believed to migrate as far in an urban area, he said.
Spraying in Baltimore was to begin yesterday evening at dusk, if it was not raining, Morrill said.
Health officials urged residents of affected areas to reduce their exposure to mosquitos by wearing long sleeves and pants and by using insect repellent.
Crows are migratory birds, so those found dead of West Nile in this area likely came here from farther north. Evans said.
The first cases in the United States were found last year in New York, where seven people died, and later in New England. Three more were made sick there this year. Although most people who get the virus don't become ill, West Nile virus can cause encephalitis, a swelling of the brain.
The virus is carried by infected birds and passed to other birds and people by infected mosquitoes. The state plans to spray Permethrin to kill mosquitoes.
The chemical kills by affecting the insects' nervous system, said Dr. Terry Miller, a toxicologist with the National Pesticide Telecommunications Network at Oregon State University.
If used properly in low volumes, it will only kill insects, not people or other animals, he said.
Carella, whose seventh-grade daughter attends Lime Kiln Middle school about one mile from the spray area, said she feels the spraying is worse than the threat of West Nile.
Lime Kiln is one of two new schools in Howard County where a handful of children who can't tolerate pesticides go.
Oliver, a resident on First League Drive in Columbia for 16 years, found one of the infected birds while he was mowing his lawn, and his wife, Harriet, called Howard County Animal Control.
He said he's not overly concerned about the West Nile virus' arrival at his doorstep, but he's glad that state employees will be spraying in the area.
On the 1700 block of Magnolia Avenue in Relay in Baltimore County, near I-95 and the Howard County line, residents were surprised to find health officials knocking on their doors with news that a bird infected with the virus was found on their street. Dolores Rottmann said the news, brought Thursday by health officials who passed out leaflets door to door, "was a little upsetting."
Others weren't very worried.
Naomi Harkins of Ellicott City said her husband, Donald, found a dead songbird on their front porch yesterday morning. After consulting with the state hot line, they weren't worried.
"We threw it away, down in the woods," because it likely died after flying into a window. She said, however, that they do plan to treat or eliminate standing water that collects near their house to discourage mosquitoes.
The Maryland West Nile hot line is 1-888-584-3110 . The National Pesticide Telecommunications Network number is 1-800-858-7378.
Sun staff writers Michael Dresser, Jamie Smith Hopkins and Joan Jacobson contributed to this article.