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West Nile Virus

Originally found in the New York area in 1999, West Nile virus continues to expand its territory each season. Currently the virus is found in 44 states, the District of Columbia and Canada. In West Virginia, 77 dead birds tested positive for the virus in 2002. Three West Virginia counties also had WNV-positive horses, and three positive human cases were reported from two counties.

All states with boundaries adjoining West Virginia had positive incidents of the virus in 2001. Wild birds are the primary reservoir hosts, however the American crow, blue jay, other corvids and raptors (hawks, owls, and eagles), are particularly susceptible. Horses, humans and other animals are usually considered to be dead-end hosts and do not have virus levels high enough to infect mosquitoes and other animals.

Because birds are particularly susceptible to the virus, large numbers of dead birds in a community may indicate a higher risk of having human cases. If the public notices dead birds in their community they are encouraged to call their County Health Department and report the bird sighting.

Birds appropriate for testing include only those that have died recently (less than 24 hours old), however all dead birds should reported. Recently deceased birds may then be submitted for West Nile virus testing. After a single West Nile positive bird has been identified within a county, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (WVDHHR) will no longer test dead birds from within that county. However, the public is encouraged to report dead bird sightings throughout the West Nile active surveillance season (May-November). Dead bird surveillance will allow us to monitor the spread of the virus into our state.

For additional information contact the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Infectious Disease Epidemiology Program at (304) 558-5358 or visit their website at www.wvdhhr.org/bph/oehp/sdc/idep.htm.

--Greg Chrislip, WVDHHR public health entomologist


What is West Nile Virus?

Dead bird reporting helps give the county health department an "early warning" that WNV is in the county. If a dead bird with WNV is found in the county, the health department will inform people in the county and tell them how to protect themselves.

What do I do if I see a sick or dead bird?

Make a note of where you saw the bird, then call your local health department. Only if the local health department asks you to do so, put one garbage bag inside another garbage bag, and place the dead bird inside the double plastic bags. Never handle birds without gloves. If you do not have gloves, place a plastic bag over your hand. Place the bagged bird some place cool.Wash your hands after removing your gloves. If the local health department does not need the bird for testing, it can be discarded in the regular trash.

What else can I do to help?

  • Empty standing water in old tires, cemetery urns, buckets, plastic covers, toys, or any other container where mosquito larvae or "wrigglers" live.
  • Empty and change the water in bird baths, fountains, wading pools, rain barrels and potted plant trays at least once a week if not more often.
  • Keep swimming pools treated and circulating, and rain gutters unclogged.

--FAQ's from the WV Department of Health and Human Resources website.

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2003 West Virginia Division of Natural Resources