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Md. gears to fend off West Nile


With summer's approach, state officials announced a stepped-up effort yesterday to combat the mosquito-borne West Nile virus, saying they expect more cases in birds this year because the disease has become more entrenched.

Though no human cases have been found in Maryland, officials were worried enough about the possibility that they have developed a new strategy to keep the disease in check.

The plan emphasizes testing wildlife, locally controlled insecticide spraying and encouraging residents to rid flower pots, bird baths and rain gutters of standing water where mosquitoes breed.

"This is where the battle is going to be fought, and that is in the back yards and common areas in neighborhoods all over our state," Gov. Parris N. Glendening said outside an Annapolis townhouse development that backs onto woods. He bent down to show the media mosquito larvae in a bird bath, a child's wagon and some old tires.

The governor said he hoped to make Marylanders more vigilant about West Nile without panicking them. He said the state's public information campaign will "emphasize the low risk of being infected" while urging residents to monitor their yards and avoid unnecessary outside activities at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.

Fifty birds -- 48 crows and two blue jays -- tested positive for the virus out of 950 submitted in Maryland last year, the first in which the disease made its presence felt significantly in the state.

This year, two crows have been found infected with West Nile in New Jersey, but no tests have turned out positive so far this spring in Maryland. All of the detected human cases have been in New York City and New Jersey.

The virus is commonly found in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Symptoms normally appear within 15 days of being bitten by an infected mosquito. Most people don't get very sick, and fewer than 1 percent experience severe symptoms such as high fever or brain swelling.

Last year, two U.S. deaths were reported, one in New Jersey and one in New York. It is not known how the disease found its way into the United States.

In Maryland, some residents complained during last year's spraying by the Department of Agriculture that exposure to the insecticide Permethrin could cause headaches, skin irritation or other problems.

This summer, state officials said, they want counties to know they can opt out of spraying if residents become concerned. "The bottom line is spraying will be a local decision," Glendening said.

An automated telephone line (1-866-866-CROW) has been created for residents to report pesticide-related illnesses, as well as to give the locations of dead animals and obtain information about the disease.

Not all the birds reported will be picked up -- only enough to form a scientific sample in a given area. In some cases, callers will be advised how to dispose of the bird themselves.

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