COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) - The state's Department of Health and Environmental Control is asking the public to watch for signs of potentially dangerous mosquito-borne illnesses.
Those illnesses include the West Nile and Chikungunya viruses.
"Anyone can help us identify and track the arrival of West Nile virus by submitting dead blue jays, crows, house sparrows, and house finches for testing," Chris Evans, a Ph.D. entomologist with the DHEC Bureau of Laboratories, said.
The agency will accept submissions of birds through Nov. 30.
"We ask that, first, you review the submission directions and photos of birds that are found on our website at http://www.scdhec.gov/birdtesting. By following those instructions, you can safely pick up and transport a bird to the closest DHEC county public health department for testing," Evans said.
The public's involvement can help DHEC cover a wider area and can also identify cases of West Nile before it shows up in people.
When a bird that tests positive for West Nile virus is found, that information is then reported to local mosquito control agencies so they can take appropriate steps to protect the public.
Mosquitos can spread the West Nile virus from birds to humans.
"West Nile virus is an illness that can cause encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain," State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said "Most people infected with West Nile virus have no symptoms of illness. Less than one percent of those infected will develop a severe form of encephalitis, and this disease can be deadly, mostly among the elderly."
The Chikungunya virus, first reported in South Carolina in 2010, has been imported from outside the country, beginning with a Midlands resident who had recently returned from India, DHEC said.
"Chikungunya causes headache, fever, rash, joint swelling or muscle pain," Bell said. "Unfortunately, there is no vaccine to prevent chikungunya; health care providers can only treat symptoms."
Public health officials recommend the following tips to make areas safer and reduce the numbers of mosquitoes that might spread these and other illnesses:
- Remove buckets, cups, bottles, flowerpots, plastic bags, tires or any water-holding containers.
- Do not allow water to stagnate in low-lying areas of the yard, in boats or on tarps that cover yard items.
- Keep birdbaths and pet bowls clean by scrubbing them and flushing with fresh water at least once a week.
- Clean fallen leaves and other debris out of roof gutters and spouting.
- Make sure outdoor trash cans have tight-fitting lids. If lids are not available, drill holes in the bottom of the can to allow water to drain.
For more information on mosquito-borne illnesses, visit DHEC's website: http://www.scdhec.gov/mosquitoes