The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) needs help tracking West Nile virus over the spring and summer. The health agency is asking residents to submit specific dead birds from across the state.
In a statement DHEC said the dead bird surveillance program allows observers 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 in a certain area. The information gained allows local mosquito control programs to take proper steps to protect the public.
"The public's involvement with dead bird surveillance helps identify West Nile virus before it shows up in people,” said Dr. Chris Evans, State Public Health Entomologist with DHEC's Bureau of Environmental Health Services. “This is a great opportunity for the public to proactively assist their public health agency in staying ahead of a potential health risk.”
DHEC said mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds that carry the virus in their blood. After one to two weeks, infected mosquitoes can transmit the virus to humans and other animals.
The agency said the amount of West Nile activity varies from year to year. In 2018, a total of 87 birds submitted from 18 counties tested positive for WNV. In 2019, only two birds submitted from two counties tested positive. In 2020, only one bird tested positive for WNV.
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 than other species, making them good candidates for testing.
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 not touch a bird, dead or alive with bare hands. Gloves must be used to pick up the bird with doubled, plastic bags.
DHEC wants the collected birds to be kept cool and placed on ice if the bird carcass can’t be delivered to DHEC within 36 hours of collection. Officials note that after the bird is collected to 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.
The state agency said humans infected with West Nile virus have no symptoms. About one in five people infected becomes ill within two to 14 days with symptoms including fever, rash, headache, joint pain, muscle pain, and occasionally nausea and vomiting.
It can be fatal for other mammals and reptiles. Horses are especially susceptible to deadly brain swelling caused by Eastern Equine Encephalitis. Eight fatal cases were reported in South Carolina in 2020. DHEC also wants to remind residents to eliminate any small puddles or standing water which are prime mosquito breeding areas.