Blue Jay in Franklin County Tests Positive for West Nile

For immediate release:
August 8, 2002

Contact: Patsy Tassler, Ph.D.
Epidemiologist
Vermont Department of Health
802-863-7286

Burlington, VT—Vermont health officials announced today that a dead bird found on August 6 in the Canadian border town of Highgate has tested positive for West Nile virus.

The bird, a blue jay, is the second bird found in Vermont to test positive for West Nile, and the first one this year. A hermit thrush found in the southeast Vermont town of Putney in September, 2000, also tested positive. The mosquito-borne illness first appeared in the United States in 1999.

“This confirms what we have been saying,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Jan K. Carney. “West Nile is here. Our challenge is to find it and our goal is to prevent human illness.”

Patsy Tassler, a Health Department epidemiologist, said that 154 birds have tested negative for the virus so far this year, and that test results on 105 more are still pending.

About 60 percent of the birds are being tested at the department’s Burlington laboratory and the rest are being sent to a laboratory at the University of Connecticut.

Officials appealed for Vermont residents who see a dead bird to report it by calling their local Health Department office. The locations and phone numbers are on the web at www.HealthyVermonters.info.

Testing dead birds is one part of the state’s West Nile virus surveillance program. In addition, the Department of Agriculture has been trapping and testing mosquitoes for the virus. No mosquitoes have tested positive this year. People get West Nile virus from the bite of an infected mosquito.

Common sense precautions recommended by the Health Department include wearing long sleeves and pants when outside, limiting outdoor time at dawn and dusk and other times when mosquitoes are out, using insect repellants that contain DEET (carefully following product directions and never using it on infants), and reducing the presence of standing water.

Any puddle or standing water that lasts for more than four days can become a breeding ground, so people should empty clogged gutters, change the water in the bird bath regularly, turn over the wading pool or wheel barrel and get rid of old tires.

A West Nile Fact Sheet is available on the Department of Health website: www.HealthyVermonters.info.