Residents Can Help DHEC Track West Nile Virus by Submitting Dead Birds for Testing
Mosquito management and bite prevention are key to limiting people’s exposure to West Nile virus
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
March 15, 2023
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Residents can help the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) track West Nile virus this spring and summer by submitting certain species of dead birds for lab testing.
DHEC’s dead bird surveillance program helps the agency identify where and when there is an increase in West Nile virus (WNV) activity, as a high rate of birds infected with the disease indicates an overall increase of the virus in a certain area. DHEC notifies local officials if there is indication of increased WNV activity within their community so they can take appropriate actions to reduce the risk of WNV infections in both people and animals.
"The public's involvement with our dead bird surveillance program bolsters the agency’s surveillance efforts and can help identify West Nile virus before it begins affecting people,” said Dr. Chris Evans, State Public Health Entomologist. “This is a unique opportunity for the public to proactively assist their public health agency in staying ahead of a potential health risk.”
Mosquitoes become infected with WNV when they feed on infected birds that carry the virus in their blood. After one to two weeks, infected mosquitoes can transmit WNV to people and other animals.
“Most people infected with WNV have no symptoms, and although the risk of serious illness is low, it is possible for potentially fatal inflammation of the brain to occur in infected people, a condition known as encephalitis,” said Dr. Linda Bell, DHEC State Epidemiologist. “The primary way to get West Nile virus is from the bite of an infected mosquito, which is why mosquito bite prevention and control are so important in reducing human exposures.”
The amount of WNV activity varies from year to year. In 2022, 78 birds were tested from 21 counties, 9 of which tested positive for West Nile virus and 2 of which tested positive for eastern equine encephalitis virus. These data may indicate mosquito-borne disease activity, but they rely on adequate numbers of dead birds being submitted. DHEC’s Mosquito-Borne Disease Viewer map shows current and historic county-level information for identified non-human instances of WNV and other mosquito-borne diseases.
DHEC doesn’t perform mosquito control. The agency’s role is to provide current information that helps individuals, communities, and local mosquito control programs take action to reduce mosquito populations and prevent bites. Mosquito control programs are managed at the local level.
Specifically, DHEC asks residents to 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 WNV than other species, making them good candidates for testing. Birds other than crows, blue jays, house finches, and house sparrows will be tested on a case-by-case basis.
Deceased birds can be reported or submitted to DHEC at local Health or Environmental Affairs offices now through Nov. 30. To safely collect a dead bird, residents should:
- Not 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 or in a refrigerator. If you can’t deliver the bird carcass to DHEC within 36 hours of collection, freeze it until you are able to deliver it or have it shipped.
- Download and complete a Dead Bird Submission and Reporting Sheet for West Nile Virus and take the sheet and dead bird to a local DHEC Health or Environmental Affairs office during normal business hours (8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday). See DHEC’s interactive map of available offices for drop-off; ; WIC-only public health departments can’t accept birds.
For more information, including locating a local DHEC office for submitting deceased birds, visit scdhec.gov/birdtesting or contact the Vector-Borne Diseases Laboratory at 803-896-3802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional information about WNV and mosquito management tips , as well as a brief informational video from Dr. Linda Bell, are available at scdhec.gov.