Vermont Begins 7th Year of Testing Dead Birds for West Nile virus

For Immediate Release: June 7 , 2006
Contact: Communication Office
802-863-7281

BURLINGTON – The State of Vermont hopes to prevent human illness from West Nile virus through a statewide surveillance program that includes testing dead birds, trapping and testing mosquitoes and testing people who have symptoms consistent with the virus.

Now in its seventh year, the plan is coordinated by the Vermont Department of Health and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets. West Nile virus is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito.

“For the past two years there have been no documented cases in Vermont of human infection with West Nile virus,” said Patsy Tassler, Ph.D. an epidemiologist with the Vermont Department of Health. “We hope to keep it that way by heightening awareness about West Nile virus and the importance of protecting yourself from mosquito bites.”

Only one out of five people who are infected with the virus experience symptoms. These symptoms are most often mild, but can include high fever and paralysis. Approximately 1 percent of people who are infected develop severe illness affecting the central nervous system, such as encephalitis or meningitis, which can be fatal.

The Department of Health is urging Vermonters to:

During the 2006 mosquito season, the public is encouraged to report all dead birds beginning on June 12 by calling the central dead bird reporting line at the Vermont Department of Health 1-800-913-1139 or by calling your local district health office, Monday to Friday 8:00 a.m.– 4:30 p.m. Some of the birds will be tested for West Nile virus. The West Nile virus season peaks in late summer and runs through October. There is a risk of West Nile virus as long as mosquitoes are active.

The Vermont Department of Health does not plan to test the birds for avian influenza, which has caused illness and death in birds and some humans overseas.

“There is no need to test dead wild birds for bird flu virus at this time,” Tassler said. “There is no evidence of birds carrying the H5N1 bird flu virus in North America. If the situation changes, Vermonters will be notified.”

The Health Department will test robins, jays, crows, ravens, osprey, hawks, owls, falcons, vultures, and eagles for West Nile virus. These bird species are the most important for indicating the presence of West Nile virus in Vermont.

Monitoring bird deaths helps to prevent human cases of the virus by identifying local areas of increased virus activity. Vermont’s first human case of West Nile virus was reported in 2002. Only four of the 888 birds collected in 2005 tested positive for West Nile virus.

For more information on West Nile virus, and photos of birds that may be tested, visit the Vermont Department of Health website: http:// healthvermont.gov.

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