Residents Can Help DHEC Track West Nile Virus By Submitting Dead Birds For Testing
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Residents can help the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) track West Nile virus this spring and summer by submitting certain species of dead birds for lab testing.
DHEC’s dead bird surveillance program allows DHEC to better understand where and when there is an increase in West Nile virus (WNV) activity, as a high rate of birds infected with the disease indicates an overall increase of the virus within a certain area. This heightened activity is reported to local mosquito control programs so they can take appropriate actions to help protect the health of residents.
"The public's involvement with dead bird surveillance helps identify West Nile virus before it shows up in people,” said Dr. Chris Evans, State Public Health Entomologist with DHEC's Bureau of Environmental Health Services. “This is a great opportunity for the public to proactively assist their public health agency in staying ahead of a potential health risk.”
Mosquitoes become infected with WNV when they feed on infected birds that carry the virus in their blood. After one to two weeks, infected mosquitoes can transmit WNV to humans and other animals.
The amount of WNV activity varies from year to year. In 2018, a total of 87 birds submitted from 18 counties tested positive for WNV. In 2019, only two birds submitted from two counties tested positive. In 2020, only one bird tested positive for WNV.
DHEC is asking residents to report or submit recently deceased crows, blue jays, house finches and house sparrows that appear not to have been injured and are not decayed. These species of birds are more susceptible to WNV than other species, making them good candidates for testing.
If residents submit birds other than crows, blue jays, house finches and house sparrows, DHEC will determine whether to test those birds on a case-by-case basis.
Deceased birds can be reported or submitted to local DHEC offices now through the end of November. To safely collect a dead bird, residents should follow these instructions:
1. Don’t touch a bird, dead or alive, with bare hands.
2. Use gloves or pick up the bird with doubled, plastic bags.
3. Keep the bagged bird cool until it can be placed on ice. If the bird carcass can’t be delivered to DHEC within 36 hours of collection, place it on ice in a cooler but do not allow water into the bags. Please do not refrigerate or freeze the carcass where food is stored.
4. Download and complete the Dead Bird Submission and Reporting Sheet for West Nile Virus and submit it, along with the dead bird, to a local DHEC office.
For more information, including locating a local DHEC office for submitting deceased birds, visit scdhec.gov/birdtesting or call the Medical Entomology Laboratory at 803-896-3802.
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