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DHEC seeks help tracking the spread of West Nile virus in local birds

March 19, 2019

The Department of Health and Environmental Control is asking for help in tracking the spread of the West Nile virus in local bird populations by having residents submit the bodies of recently deceased birds to local DHEC facilities for testing.

The Department is especially interested in testing crows, blue jays, house sparrows, and house finches, as these birds are more susceptible to contracting the virus than other species.

“The public’s involvement with dead bird surveillance helps identify West Nile virus before it shows up in people,” said Chris Evans, State Public Health Entomologist with DHEC’s Bureau of Environmental Health Services, in a press release. “This is a unique opportunity for the public to proactively assist their public health agency in staying ahead of a potential health risk.”

The virus can be spread through mosquitos who feed on birds infected with the virus. After one to two weeks of feeding on an infected bird, the virus becomes active in the mosquito, and can spread to other animals and people the infected mosquito feeds on.

By testing deceased birds in the area, DHEC is able to better understand increases in WNV activity. Increases in activity are reported to local mosquito control programs, so they can take”appropriate actions to help protect the health of residents,” according to the press release.

The West Nile virus (WNV) is the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. There are no vaccines or treatment for the disease, but most people who become infected do not experience any symptoms. Only about 1 in 5 people infected with West Nile virus develop symptoms like fever, and about 1 in 150 develop serious illness, according to the CDC.

In 2018, a total of 87 birds submitted from 18 counties tested positive for WNV.

Only deceased birds that show no decay or obvious injuries should be submitted for testing. To collect a bird to submit for DHEC testing, do the following;

• Never touch a dead bird with bare hands. Use gloves, doubled plastic bags, or other tools to secure the body in a closed bag.

• Deliver the bird to the DHEC facility within 36 hours

• Download and complete the Dead Bird Submission and Reporting Sheet for West Nile Virus and submit it, along with the dead bird, to a local DHEC office. The sheet can be found at dhec.gov.

For more information, including locating a local DHEC office for submitting deceased birds, visit scdhec.gov or call the Medical Entomology Laboratory at 803-896-3802.

The local DHEC office for testing is located at 206 Beaufort Street NE.

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