Dead crows show virus


Six crows found dead in Baltimore have tested positive for West Nile virus, the third appearance of the disease in Maryland this year, state health department officials said yesterday.

Two of the crows were found in Green Mount Cemetery, three others in Northeast Baltimore neighborhoods and one in West Baltimore, said J. B. Hanson, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Test results on the crows, found Sept. 23 and 24, were returned yesterday, Hanson said.

That brings to nine the number of incidences of West Nile virus in Maryland in the past two weeks.

Health officials confirmed last week that two crows found a few miles from each other in Baltimore and Howard counties had the disease, as well as one in Federal Hill.

Officials are to spray dilute clouds of a common household pesticide early Monday in a 2-square-mile area around Federal Hill, but they are "assessing the locations" where the more recent birds were found to "determine the best way to proceed," Hanson said.

In addition to Green Mount Cemetery, infected crows were found in the 5500 block of Laurelton Ave., the 1600 block of Northgate Road and the 3600 block of Dudley Ave. in Northeast Baltimore and the 1000 block of Argyle Ave. in West Baltimore.

Residents in two of the neighborhoods said they were surprised to learn that the virus had been found in dead birds in the inner city.

"It scares me, because now you can't even be outside because you've got to worry about mosquitoes biting you, and if they do bite you, you've got to worry about getting sick," said Kemp McCray, 28, at the Avenue Auto Repair Center across the street from Greenmount Cemetery. "I see crows all the time in that tree," he added, pointing toward Greenmount Avenue and East Oliver Street.

Cynthia Edwards, 34, who lives near the 1000 block of Argyle Ave., said her biggest concern is for her children, ages 9 and 13.

"I have children around here and they come out and play," she said. "I can't afford medical attention. I want them to come over here and spray."

The insecticide, Permethrin, may be worse than the disease, said Ruth Berlin of the Maryland Pesticide Network. It can cause burning, itching, numbness and, "on an acute level," can initiate respiratory problems, she said.

"Ironically, the same populations most vulnerable to adverse reactions to West Nile are the same populations most vulnerable to adverse reactions from Permethrin," she said. "There is no such thing as a safe dose."

According to the National Pesticide Telecommunications Network at the University of Oregon, the effects of Permethrin on humans "are reversible and usually go away within 12 hours."

Maryland health officials recommend staying indoors during spraying, with windows closed and air conditioners turned off. Those experiencing burning and itching or respiratory difficulties should see a doctor.

The nine infected birds found this month constitute the largest outbreak of the disease in Maryland since it appeared in the Western Hemisphere in August 1999. It is dwarfed, however, by the finding of nearly 1,000 infected crows and mammals in the New York area.

West Nile virus is carried by infected birds and passed along to other birds and to people by infected mosquitoes. It produces no symptoms in most adults and mild, flu-like symptoms in others. But it also can cause encephalitis, a deadly inflammation of the brain, in the elderly, infants and those with weakened immune systems.

It killed seven New Yorkers, all elderly, last year and severely sickened 55 others. Twelve New Yorkers have become sick this year, and an 82-year-old New Jersey man died Sept. 14, becoming the first reported West Nile fatality in the United States this year. Officials said the man had other ailments, but that the virus had been the principal cause of death.

There are no reports of Maryland residents, or mosquitoes, testing positive for the virus.

The virus was limited mostly to the New York area last year, but this year it has spread from Canada to Maryland. Though horses and other animals have been infected, crows apparently are most susceptible to the disease.

The infected crows are showing up in Maryland now because the birds have begun migrating south for the winter, Hanson said.

Infected birds have been reported in New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania in the past two weeks.

Despite the arrival of infected crows in Maryland, weekly tests on chickens in 14 sentinel flocks across the state have turned up no instances of infection by the virus.

State officials have urged residents to get rid of standing water on their property, which is where mosquitoes breed. They also recommend that people wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts if they are going to be outside at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.

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