State health officials want dead birds to track West Nile virus
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - State health officials want you to bring them certain species of dead birds.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control wants the birds to help them test and track West Nile virus during the spring and summer.
DHEC officials say the dead bird surveillance program can help identify areas with an increase in the virus based on the rate of birds infected.
“The public’s involvement with our dead bird surveillance program bolsters the agency’s surveillance efforts and can help identify West Nile virus before it begins affecting people,” State Public Health Entomologist Dr. Chris Evans said. “This is a unique opportunity for the public to proactively assist their public health agency in staying ahead of a potential health risk.”
West Nile virus is transmitted by mosquitoes that have fed on infected birds. The mosquitoes can then transfer the disease to humans and other animals after one to two weeks.
Officials are asking for recently dead crows, blue jays, house finches and house sparrows that appear to not be injured and are not decaying. The collected birds can be submitted to local health and environmental affairs offices through Nov. 30.
DHEC has proved tips on collecting the birds:
- Do not touch a bird, dead or alive, with bare hands. Use gloves or pick up the bird with doubled, plastic bags.
- Keep the bagged bird cool until it can be placed on ice or in a refrigerator. If you can’t deliver the bird carcass to DHEC within 36 hours of collection, freeze it until you are able to deliver it or have it shipped.
- Download and complete a Dead Bird Submission and Reporting Sheet for West Nile Virus and take the sheet and dead bird to a local DHEC Health or Environmental Affairs office during normal business hours. See DHEC’s interactive map of available offices for drop-off; WIC-only public health departments can’t accept birds.
“Most people infected with WNV have no symptoms, and although the risk of serious illness is low, it is possible for potentially fatal inflammation of the brain to occur in infected people, a condition known as encephalitis,” DHEC State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said. “The primary way to get West Nile virus is from the bite of an infected mosquito, which is why mosquito bite prevention and control are so important in reducing human exposures.”
In 2022, 78 birds were tested across 21 counties. Officials say nine of the birds tested positive for West Nile virus and two tested positive for eastern equine encephalitis virus.
More information on the program can be found at scdhec.gov/birdtesting or by contacting the Vector-Borne Diseases Laboratory at 803-896-3802.
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