Drought, spraying keep virus at bay

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 24, 2002

A 33-year-old Richmond man is the first person to test positive in Virginia for West Nile virus, state health officials said Thursday.

Although people from other Hampton Roads localities have been tested for the disease, no one from Suffolk has had symptoms requiring testing for the potentially fatal illness, said Pat Winter, spokeswoman for the Suffolk Health Department.

&uot;We’ve haven’t had any problems with West Nile so far this year,&uot; said Winter. &uot;We’ve been lucky.&uot;

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The lack of the mosquito-borne diseases this summer stems from the lack of wet weather, said Norm Grefe, the city’s biologist.

&uot;That’s is one of the few silver linings to the drought,&uot; said Grefe. &uot;The dry weather has left few places for the mosquitoes to breed.&uot;

Additionally, the city is aggressively spraying and testing mosquitoes trapped throughout areas of the city.

None of them have tested positive, he said.

But there is still a good chance the disease will strike a horse or person in Suffolk, Grefe said. &uot;It’s probably just a matter of time, especially since the mosquitoes overwinter in the swamp,&uot; he said.

Dr. Robert B. Stroube, state health commissioner, said blood tests performed by the state laboratory confirmed that the resident of Richmond’s West End contracted the virus. He said officials are waiting for additional tests at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta before calling it a confirmed case of the mosquito-borne illness.

Typical symptoms of the mildest form of West Nile include fever, malaise and severe headaches, Stroube said. He said the man already has recovered from the illness and has returned to work.

It is uncertain whether the man contracted the virus at his home. Dr. Michael Welch of the Richmond Department of Public Health noted that the man &uot;spent a lot of time outside, not only in his own back yard but also in the Tidewater area, playing a lot of golf, all over Virginia.&uot; &uot;We will never know&uot; whether he contracted the virus in Richmond, Welch said.

However, Richmond’s West End is as likely as anywhere else to have been the source of the virus, said David Gaines, an entomologist with the state Department of Health. The West End &uot;was where the West Nile virus was first detected in this area,&uot; he noted. He said a number of infected birds have been found in the area, which he said has an abundance of mosquito-breeding habitats where the virus can thrive.

The city has been spraying pesticide and applying larvicide to storm sewers, Gaines said, but he noted that one mosquito species that carries the virus, the Asian tiger mosquito, breeds in yards where the city is unable to take any control measures. &uot;One cannot take care of tiger mosquitoes in everyone’s back yard,&uot; he said. &uot;People have to police their own back yards.&uot;

Stroube said that given the number of indications of West Nile virus activity in Virginia, a human case was inevitable, and more cases are likely.

In particular, he said, northern Virginia has had &uot;intensive&uot; virus activity, which means &uot;there are likely to be human cases in northern Virginia.&uot;

State laboratory officials said they have received 65 human blood samples to test for the virus. Of those cases, 45 have tested negative, the one sample reported Thursday tested positive, and 19 are still being tested.

Lab tests on Friday

indicated that a horse in Elizabeth City, said Dr. John Sangenario, owner of Dominion Equine Clinic. This horse was not vaccinated, he said.

&uot;People think it can’t happen to them or that this is too far away to matter,&uot; Sangenario said.

Generally, people have gotten better about vaccinating their horses against both West Nile and Eastern Equine encephalitis, he said. Unlike in years past, no horses have died of EEE this summer.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.