Baton Rouge – Saturday marked the first day of spring, which is the time to kick off the state’s West Nile virus surveillance program, which involves testing dead birds for traces of the virus. Testing will take place through the Department of Health and Hospitals’ Office of Public Health.
REPORTING DEAD BIRDS
During the Day
Surveillance for West Nile virus using dead birds has proven to be an accurate means of predicting where the virus will show up in humans. During past outbreaks in parishes where West Nile virus was found in humans, LDH surveillance detected it first in bird populations. This early detection therefore allows mosquito abatement and prevention efforts to be targeted to specific communities and neighborhoods.
“We are officially beginning surveillance as Spring begins and people are spending more time outdoors,” said Dr. Frederick P. Cerise, LDH Secretary. “We hope to gain more insight into whether this year’s West Nile season will be severe, as it was in 2002, or moderate, as it was in 2003.”
Last year’s West Nile outbreak yielded 121 human cases and seven deaths statewide. The 2003 outbreak centered on the Bossier/Caddo parishes area, which had reported the highest volume of birds testing positive for the virus during preseason surveillance. So far this year, lab workers have tested 82 birds for the virus, nine of which tested positive. The positive birds were from Evangeline, Iberia, Orleans, St. Mary and Tangipahoa parishes.
The health department will test blue jays, crows, cardinals, grackles, house sparrows, seagulls and birds of prey for West Nile virus this year. Testing will take place at Louisiana State University’s Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Lab.
Citizens should call their parish health units to report dead birds they find. For a listing of contact information for each parish health unit, look in the yellow pages or local telephone directory listings, or go tohttp://oph.dhh.state.la.us/ophregions/index.html.
Citizens reporting dead birds will be asked to give the times, dates and addresses of the birds’ recovery. Although people cannot contract West Nile virus by touching dead birds, they still should take precautions when handling them.
People who find dead birds are advised against handling them with bare hands and should bag the birds using plastic food bags. To safely collect a dead bird, use a plastic bag turned inside out. The person collecting the bird should insert his or her hand into a plastic bag, grasp the bird carefully and invert the bag over the bird. Seal the bag and place it inside another plastic bag. If the bird is not too badly decomposed, the person reporting it should take it to the nearest parish health unit.
Horses infected with West Nile virus may also be valuable surveillance subjects for human disease. Although OPH has no direct role in surveillance of the disease in horses, the agency requests that veterinarians promptly report all cases to the State Veterinarian’s Office, Dr. Maxwell Lea or Dr. Martha Littlefield Chabaud. Veterinarians should report the precise location of the horse as well as date of onset of clinical signs of West Nile virus.
For more information on West Nile Virus, please visit DHH’s Office of Public Health’s Web site:www.FightTheBiteLouisiana.com.