Friday marks the first day of spring and the first official day of this year’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.
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 the outbreak last summer, in 90 percent of the parishes were WNV was found in humans, LDH's 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 hope that by being proactive and testing birds for the disease, we can gain a better understanding of how many human cases we will see this summer,” said Secretary David W. Hood. “In this way, we can target our efforts to alert people and direct mosquito control efforts, all to better protect people from the disease.”
The health department will test blue jays, crows, cardinals, grackles, house sparrows, seagulls and birds of prey, as well as sentinel chickens, 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 to http://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 double bag the birds using plastic food bags. If the bird is not too badly decomposed, the person reporting it should take it to the nearest parish health unit.
The lab at the LSU Vet School has tested nine birds this year, and all were negative for West Nile virus. These nine birds came from different parishes – Claiborne, Jackson, Lafourche, St. Mary, Orleans and DeSoto.
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, Dr. Maxwell Lea. 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.
REPORTING DEAD BIRDS
During the Day
Call the nearest parish health unit to report a dead bird.
Provide the location and species of birds (or at least size and color).
After Hours and Weekends
Freeze the bird immediately and contact the nearest parish health unit the following business day. Or, citizens can call 1-800-256-2748. Press "3" and this voice mail will allow you to report a dead bird. Be sure to leave your name, phone number and the parish where you live. There might be a slight delay in your call being returned. The voice mail system also provides the toll-free hotline for information on West Nile virus from the CDC.