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Death Linked to West Nile Virus

A 54-year-old Sterling woman was the first in the state to die from West Nile virus. She also was the first in Loudoun County to contract the virus.

The woman, who had diabetes, was hospitalized at the Loudoun Hospital Center on Sept. 5 for encephalitis and became unresponsive shortly after she was admitted. She died Sept. 22.

"What's important, although we feel for the family and the loss, we don't think this puts Loudoun at an increased risk," said David Goodfriend, director of the Loudoun County Health Department. "For a woman to die from it doesn't mean it's more serious. It was just unfortunate the woman was unable to fight off the infection."

The woman was likely infected from a mosquito near her home, Goodfriend said. The Health Department responded by searching the woman's neighborhood for areas of standing water, which mosquitoes can used for breeding grounds. The department used larvicide around her home and set out mosquito traps in her neighborhood in addition to the traps placed last spring throughout the county. The traps captured a low number of mosquitoes, which tested negative for the virus.

WEST NILE VIRUS is spread to birds, horses and humans and rarely to other mammals through the bite of an infected mosquito. People who are bitten may get sick and usually suffer a mild flu-like illness. Few people contract a serious illness, such as encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, and meningitis, inflammation of the lining of the brain or of the spinal cord.

Thirteen people contracted the virus in the state this year.

"It really is all over the county as it is throughout the metropolitan Washington region," Goodfriend said. "Loudoun County is aggressively working to control mosquito populations in the county to help keep our residents safe."

The department began testing birds last spring and identified 36 birds with the virus, compared to finding four birds with the virus last year. The department stopped collecting the birds in August to concentrate efforts on further mosquito testing and found mosquitoes positive for the virus in Sterling, Lovettsville and Purcellville.

THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT recommends the following to reduce mosquito exposure:

* Wear long, loose and light-colored clothing.

* Use insect repellent.

* Turn over or remove containers that can collect water, such as potted plant trays, buckets and toys.

* Eliminate standing water on tarps or flat roofs.

* Clean out bird baths and wading pools once a week.

* Clean roof gutters and downspout screens regularly.