Help DHEC track West Nile Virus by submitting dead birds to local offices

COLUMBIA, SC – The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is seeking help in tracking West Nile virus (WNV) by asking the public to submit certain species of dead birds to local offices for testing.  “The dead bird surveillance program plays a key role in alerting the department to West Nile virus activity across the state,” said Dr. Chris Evans, State Public Health Entomologist, DHEC Bureau of Environmental Health Services. “The public’s involvement with dead bird surveillance covers a wide area and helps identify West Nile virus before it shows up in people.”

Mosquitoes become infected with WNV when they feed on infected birds that carry the virus in their blood. After 1½ to 2 weeks, infected mosquitoes can transmit WNV to humans and other animals.  A high death rate from WNV in birds alerts DHEC to virus activity in a particular area of our state. This activity is then reported to local mosquito control programs so that appropriate action can be taken to help safeguard the health of local residents.  Signs of WNV in birds include weakness, sluggishness, shaking, seizures, an inability to walk/fly/perch, blindness, or lack of fear of humans.

DHEC is requesting that residents report and/or submit recently deceased (non-injured, non-decayed) crows, blue jays, house finches, and house sparrows to local offices (see below for details) between mid-March through the end of November. Residents are discouraged from submitting grackles. Grackles are black or brown birds, that look a lot like crows but are much smaller, with a purple or green sheen to their head depending on the angle and light.

When residents submit birds other than crows, blue jays, house finches, and house sparrows, DHEC will decide whether or not to test those birds on a case-by-case basis. DHEC will not test birds that die as a part of a mass die-off at a single time and place. Mass die-offs are typically caused by something other than WNV.  DHEC will accept other types of birds from veterinarians affiliated with zoos, raptor rehabilitation centers, and similar facilities if WNV is suspected as the cause of illness.

To safely collect a dead bird, it is important to follow these instructions:

  • Do not touch a bird (dead or alive) with bare hands:
    • Use gloves, or;
    • Pick the bird up with doubled, clear plastic bags that have been turned inside out (covering your hand). Invert the bag over the bird (uncovering your hand) and seal the bird in the doubled plastic bags.
    • Keep the bagged bird cool until it can be placed on ice or in a refrigerator. If the bird carcass cannot be delivered to DHEC within 24-36 hours of collection, freeze it until delivery or shipment.
    • Download and complete the DHEC Dead Bird Submission and Reporting Sheet for West Nile virus and submit it, along with the dead bird, to your local DHEC office.

Testing result notifications will be returned in approximately two weeks.  DHEC is currently accepting bird submissions through Nov. 30, 2017. Instructions on how to safely pick up and transport a bird to the closest  DHEC local county health department or Environmental Affairs office are available online at scdhec.gov/birdtesting.

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