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Woman Dead of West Nile Virus

Elsie Karo, an 87-year-old woman from Bethesda who tested positive for the West Nile virus, died on Aug. 27 after being hospitalized for encephalitis earlier in the month.

"It is 99 percent confirmed," that West Nile was the cause, said Dr. Carol Garvey, chief medical officer of Montgomery County. "The absolute, ultimate test will be done at" the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The confirmation at the CDC may take several months, said Garvey, a Potomac resident.

Karo's death is the second case of West Nile virus in a human in Maryland this year, and the first fatal one. Last year, there were six reported cases of the West Nile Virus in a human in Maryland, three of which were fatal.

"It is very likely that other people in the county have it," said Garvey, but of those infected with the virus, "only one in 150 will develop serious neurological symptoms."

Most people who become ill with the virus will experience "a mild flu-like illness lasting three to six days," Garvey said.

West Nile virus is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected mosquitoes. Montgomery County has had over 70 incidents of birds testing positive for the West Nile virus this year. Citizens are still asked to report dead birds, but the county is no longer picking up dead birds in Potomac and most other areas of the county.

"We are picking up dead birds in those few zip codes that haven't had two birds that have tested positive," said Garvey.

Two or more infected birds have been found in Potomac's 20854 zip code.

Citizens can help prevent the spread of West Nile virus by eliminating standing water, and volunteering to help others do so.

"I think it's always worth mentioning that the best opportunity to reduce the virus is reducing the opportunities mosquitoes have to breed," said Garvey.

Montgomery County provides training for a volunteer program, aNILEators, for those who wish to educate community members and help them locate potential mosquito breeding areas.

"The volunteers are not inspectors or enforcers," said Marilyn Piety, program manager in Public Health Services. "They go around spreading the word, because people in Montgomery County are not that savvy about mosquito breeding. … If people are very vigilant, it's going to be okay."

For further information about West Nile virus or to report dead birds, call 1-866-866-CROW (2769) or visit www.dhmh.state.md.us.

For information on aNILEators, call 240-777-2600.