Public Asked to Report Sick or Dead Wild Birds to State for 2009 West Nile Virus Monitoring

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s
Mosquito Control Section is again asking the public’s help in
monitoring West Nile virus by reporting sick or dead wild birds
that may have contracted the virus, a mosquito-borne disease of
considerable concern to human health and unvaccinated horses. 

Beginning Tuesday, April 28, Mosquito Control requests that the
public report only sick or dead crows, blue jays, cardinals, robins
and hawks or owls, plus clusters of five or more sick or dead wild
birds of any species. Specimens should appear to have been dead for
less than 24 hours and not killed by other obvious causes.

Specimens collected by Mosquito Control will be submitted to the
Delaware Public Health Laboratory for virus testing. From early
June through mid-October, Mosquito Control will also operate its
statewide network of about 22 “sentinel chicken” stations, which
keep watch not only for West Nile virus, but also for eastern
equine encephalitis, another mosquito-borne disease affecting
horses and humans.

In 2003 in Delaware there were 17 reported human cases and two
human fatalities from West Nile virus, which is primarily
transmitted by the common house mosquito, along with 63 stricken
horses. In 2004 and 2006, no cases of West Nile virus were reported
in humans or horses; in 2005 two human cases were reported, with no
horse cases. Just one human case in Delaware was reported in both
2007 and 2008, according to Dr. William Meredith, Delaware’s
Mosquito Control administrator.

“Mosquito Control’s effective approach to controlling the
mosquitoes that transmit this disease, along with seemingly natural
but still poorly understood cycles for the environmental occurrence
of West Nile virus, have combined over the past few years to
prevent significant outbreaks of this disease in Delaware,”
Meredith said, noting that some other states have seen higher
numbers. For 2008, Centers for Disease Control figures show 1,356
reported human cases of West Nile virus resulting in 44 deaths,
with most in Arizona, California, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi,
Nebraska, New York and Texas.

Having West Nile virus in Delaware for about nine years may have
reduced populations of some virus-prone birds such as crows, and
surviving members of other bird species may have become more
resistant to the virus’ effects. Because of this, Meredith predicts
2009 may show lower incidence of West Nile virus-stricken wild
birds in Delaware, continuing a downward trend during the past five
years following the peak outbreak in 2003. Weather conditions could
also impact this year’s West Nile numbers, as evidence suggests
outbreaks might be more severe during abnormally hot years, with
the peak concern for transmission in late summer and early fall,
Meredith added.

Mosquito Control will continue its past practice of documenting
all phone reports of West Nile species of interest, but again will
not collect and analyze all reported birds. As the season
progresses, Mosquito Control will stop analyzing specimens from
areas where a number of virus-positive birds have been found,
although the section will continue to solicit the public’s
reporting virus-suspect birds for these areas. 

“We are interested in when and where West Nile virus might first
again appear in Delaware this year and in monitoring the timing and
locations of its possible spread throughout the state,” Meredith
said. “Our sampling strategy this year will be to wisely allocate
the number of birds we collect and test between late April and late
October, and to concentrate on good representation throughout
Delaware to generate the most useful information. This means we
will not be collecting too many birds from any one area.”

Meredith also noted that there is no cause for alarm or fear
that uncollected specimens will transmit West Nile virus to humans
or pets that might consume a sick bird or its carcass. Dead birds
can be left to decompose in place, or they can be buried or bagged
and disposed of in the garbage. When handling any dead bird, you
should avoid direct skin contact by wearing gloves or using a
shovel to dispose of the carcass.

Sick or dead birds can be reported to the Mosquito Control
Section between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, by
calling the section’s field offices:

New Castle County and northwestern Kent County (Glasgow office):
302-836-2555

Remainder of Kent County and all of Sussex County (Milford
office): 302-422-1512

These numbers may also be used to report intolerable numbers of
biting mosquitoes to help Mosquito Control determine when and where
to provide control services. For more information on Delaware’s
Mosquito Control programs, call the main office at
302-739-9917.

Calls made to the field offices after business hours or during
weekends or holidays can be recorded. Callers should give their
name, phone number, address and a brief message about the finding.
However, the public should be aware that some calls left more than
24 hours before Mosquito Control can review them (usually between
Friday evening and Sunday morning) usually result in the bird
becoming too deteriorated for virus testing.

For more information about West Nile virus in humans, please
contact the Division of Public Health at 302-744-4541 or
888-295-5156. For more information about West Nile virus in horses,
eastern equine encephalitis or vaccines, please contact the State
Veterinarian at the Department of Agriculture at 800-282-8685 (DE
only) or 302-698-4500.  

The West Nile testing program will not be used to sample for
avian influenza (the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of “Asian bird
flu” now of world-wide concern), since the bird species targeted
for West Nile screening are not presently believed to be involved
in the transmission of avian influenza (AI). Other state and
federal agencies have initiated specialized testing programs for AI
in other species of wild birds, focusing on waterfowl, shorebirds
and migratory gulls. For more information on Delaware’s AI program,
please call 302-735-3600. 

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