Vermont Reports First Bird Positive for West Nile Virus in 2005

For Immediate Release: August 22, 2005

Contact: Patsy Tassler, PhD
Epidemiologist
Vermont Department of Health
863-7240

BURLINGTON – State health officials confirmed the first case of West Nile Virus in a bird in 2005 after a blue jay collected in Essex tested positive on Aug. 19.

Vermont becomes the 33 rd state this year to report a positive bird to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The virus, which is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito, is well established in United States.

“Each year we expect to see West Nile Virus, which is why we have steadily worked to educate Vermonters on preventive measures when outdoors, particularly at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active,” said Patsy Tassler, epidemiologist for the Vermont Department of Health.

No human cases have been confirmed in Vermont this year. Most mosquitoes are not infected with West Nile Virus, and, if bitten, chances of a person getting sick are low. Fewer than 1 percent of people who are infected develop severe illness affecting the central nervous system. Twenty -percent of people who are infected develop milder symptoms such as fever and headache.

In Vermont, a total of 116 birds tested positive for West Nile Virus in 2003 and three human cases were confirmed. No human cases of the virus were reported in 2004 and only nine birds tested positive last year.

The West Nile surveillance program collects dead birds, traps mosquitoes, and tests people and horses that have symptoms consistent with infection. Horses are vulnerable to infection. Vermont’s first equine case of 2005 was detected in a 9-year-old paint gelding in July.

Blue Jays, crows and ravens are susceptible to severe illness if infected with West Nile Virus and have a mortality rate above 90 percent. People cannot get the virus from a bird, but the Health Department advises people handling dead birds to wear gloves.

For information on West Nile virus call the Vermont Department of Health at 1-800-640-4374 (VT only), 1-802-863-7240, or check the website at www.healthyvermonters.info.