DHEC asking residents to submit dead birds for testing to help track West Nile virus

DHEC asking residents to submit dead birds for testing to help track West Nile virus
Mosquitoes become infected with the West Nile virus when they feed on infected birds. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) – State health officials are asking South Carolinians to help track West Nile virus this spring and summer by submitting certain species of dead birds for lab testing.

According to a press release from the Department of Health and Environmental Control, their dead bird surveillance program allows DHEC to better understand where and when there is an increase in West Nile virus activity, as a high rate of birds infected with the disease indicates an overall increase of the virus within a certain area.

This heightened activity is reported to local mosquito control programs so they can take appropriate actions to help protect residents, DHEC officials said.

Mosquitoes become infected with West Nile virus when they feed on infected birds that carry the virus in their blood, the release stated. After one to two weeks, infected mosquitoes can transmit the virus to humans and other animals.

The amount of West Nile virus activity varies from year to year. In 2018, a total of 87 birds submitted from 18 counties tested positive for the virus, according to DHEC. In 2019, only two birds submitted from two counties tested positive. In 2020, only one bird tested positive.

DHEC is asking residents to report or submit recently deceased crows, blue jays, house finches and house sparrows that appear not to have been injured and are not decayed. These species of birds are more susceptible to West Nile virus than other species, making them good candidates for testing, the release stated.

If residents submit birds other than crows, blue jays, house finches and house sparrows, DHEC will determine whether to test those birds on a case-by-case basis.

Deceased birds can be reported or submitted to local DHEC offices now through the end of November. To safely collect a dead bird, residents should follow these instructions:

  • Don’t touch a bird, dead or alive, with bare hands. Use gloves or pick up the bird with doubled, plastic bags.
  • Keep the bagged bird cool until it can be placed on ice. If the bird carcass can’t be delivered to DHEC within 36 hours of collection, place it on ice in a cooler but do not allow water into the bags. Do not refrigerate or freeze the carcass where food is stored.
  • Download and complete the Dead Bird Submission and Reporting Sheet for West Nile Virus and submit it, along with the dead bird, to a local DHEC office.

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