Vermonters Asked to Report Dead Birds to Track West Nile virus

For Immediate Release: June 26, 2003

Contact: Patsy Tassler, PhD
Vermont Department of Health

BURLINGTON, VT—As part of its West Nile virus surveillance effort, health officials are asking Vermonters to report sightings of dead birds. West Nile virus can be spread to birds, other animals—and people—through the bite of an infected mosquito. Dead birds can be an early indication that West Nile virus is carried by mosquitoes in a particular location.

Vermonters who see a dead bird can report it by calling their local health department office or by calling the statewide toll-free reporting number 1-800-913-1139 (8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday).

To monitor virus activity in the state, the health department will be testing some, but not all, of the birds that are reported. It is not necessary to test all dead birds to know that West Nile virus is in Vermont. The Agency of Agriculture and the Department of Health are also collaborating on mosquito surveillance for West Nile virus. Mosquitoes from around the state are being trapped and tested for the virus.

Take Precautions against West Nile

“We know West Nile is here to stay, our challenge is to prevent human illness,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Paul Jarris, “People can take simple precautions now to reduce the mosquito population and protect against bites.”

Any puddle or standing water that lasts for more than four days can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Vermonters are encouraged to limit the areas that water may pool near their homes and farms by changing water in bird baths regularly, turning over wading pools and wheel barrows, and emptying clogged gutters and other water-holding containers.

During mosquito season, the health department recommends that people limit their outdoor time at dawn and dusk, wear long sleeves and pants when possible outside, and use an insect repellant that contains DEET (carefully following the directions and never using it on infants).

“While most people who are infected do not have any symptoms, it is well worth guarding against West Nile because the illness can be severe, especially in older people,” said Dr. Jarris.

Approximately 20 percent of people who are infected have mild symptoms, which may include fever, headache, body aches, skin rash, and swollen lymph glands. More severe cases can cause headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, paralysis and sometimes death.

West Nile in the U.S. and Vermont

Since 1999 when it was first documented in New York City, West Nile virus has spread to 44 states plus the District of Columbia.

The presence of West Nile Virus in Vermont was first documented in October 2000 in a hermit thrush. Last year in Vermont a total of 125 dead birds, five horses and 11 mosquito pools tested positive. Vermont’s first human case was also documented in 2002.

For more information

More information about West Nile virus, and a listing of locations and phone numbers for reporting dead birds are on the Vermont Department of Health West Nile virus web site.