Health Department Begins 9th Year of Dead Bird Surveillance for West Nile Virus

For Immediate Release: June 17, 2008
Media Contact: Communication Office
Vermont Department of Health
802-863-7281

BURLINGTON - Each year in Vermont, mosquitoes are mapped, monitored, targeted and trapped and – when spotted – swatted, smacked and squished.

The Vermont Department of Health’s main interest in the pests is whether or not the mosquitoes are infected with West Nile virus, an infection that may cause illness. Most mosquitoes are not infected with West Nile virus, which is transmitted from infected birds to certain types of mosquitoes that routinely feed on robins, jays, crows, ravens and raptors.

Starting June 16, 2008, people are encouraged to report all dead birds by calling 1-800-913-1139.

All dead bird reports (whether the birds are tested or not) are important and will help the State of Vermont understand more about the spread of West Nile virus in Vermont. Information gathered from West Nile virus surveillance activities, now in its ninth year, informs state officials about the level of virus activity and the potential threat to human health.

“Only certain species of birds that are the best indicators of the virus will be tested, but it’s important that people report all dead birds to us,” said Health Department epidemiologist Patsy Kelso. “We've had an excellent response from Vermonters since we started our surveillance efforts, and it's been highly successful in raising awareness about West Nile virus.”

There is no evidence that a person can get the virus from handling live or dead birds, people should wear gloves whenever handling a dead animal, including birds.

A total of 370 birds were collected last year, 55 were tested, and three birds were postive for the virus.

No human cases of West Nile virus have been reported by the Vermont Department of Health for the past four years. Even if bitten by an infected mosquito, a person’s chance of getting sick is low. Most people who are infected do not have any symptoms. Fewer than 1 percent of people who are infected develop severe illness, like encephalitis or meningitis. Another 20 percent of people who are infected have a milder illness. People over 50 years of age, and those with weakened immune systems, are at greatest risk for severe illness.

West Nile virus in Vermont was first documented in October 2000, when the State Bird, a hermit thrush, found dead in southern Vermont tested positive for the virus. In 2002, West Nile virus was widespread among birds and mosquitos in Vermont, and Vermont’s first human case was documented that same year.

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