S.C. residents can help track West Nile virus by submitting dead birds

Temperatures could increase the risk of West Nile Virus
Temperatures could increase the risk of West Nile Virus(KVLY)
Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 1:36 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 15, 2023 at 2:10 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - South Carolina residents can help state health officials track the West Nile virus this spring and summer by submitting certain species of dead birds for lab testing.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control notifies local officials if the testing shows high virus activity.

The amount of West Nile activity varies from year to year.

In 2023, 78 birds were tested from 21 counties, and nine were positive for West Nile virus. Two tested positive for eastern equine encephalitis virus.

On Sept. 12, 2022, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control confirmed 11 human cases of West Nile virus. Nine of the 11 confirmed human cases are from the Midlands region; six of those cases are residents of Richland County, as noted in the Sept. 9 news release about a West Nile virus outbreak in that county.

Along with the human cases, West Nile virus has been detected in 5 birds and 38 mosquito samples as of Sept. 2022.

“If you develop fever or other symptoms after being bitten by a mosquito, you should contact your health care provider immediately,” said Dr. Linda Bell, South Carolina State Epidemiologist.

DHEC stresses the importance of paying attention to the most effective ways to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses, including West Nile virus:

  • Repellents help keep mosquitoes from biting. Apply insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, 2-undecanone, or IR 3535 according to label instructions.
  • Make sure that your doors and windows have tight-fitting screens to keep out mosquitoes.
  • Eliminate all sources of standing water on your property, including flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, birdbaths, old car tires, rain gutters and pet bowls.
  • Wearing light-colored clothing to cover the skin reduces the risk of bites.

Mosquitoes become infected with West Nile when they feed on infected birds. After one to two weeks, infected mosquitoes can transmit the virus to people and animals.

West Nile usually causes no symptoms in people but can also cause a fatal inflammation of the brain known as encephalitis.

Specifically, DHEC asks residents to submit recently deceased crows, blue jays, house finches and house sparrows that appear not to have been injured and are not decayed.

These species are more susceptible than others, making them good candidates for testing.

Deceased birds can be reported or submitted to local DHEC offices through Nov. 30.

To safely collect a dead bird:

  • Don’t touch the bird, dead or alive, with bare hands. Use gloves or pick up the bird with double plastic bags.
  • Keep the bagged bird cool until it can be placed on ice or in a refrigerator. If you can’t deliver the bird carcass to DHEC within 36 hours of collection, freeze it until you can deliver it.
  • Download and complete a reporting sheet and take it and the dead bird to a local DHEC office during normal business hours, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. See DHEC’s interactive map of available offices for drop-off; WIC-only public health departments can’t accept birds.

For more information, including locating a local DHEC office for submitting deceased birds, visit scdhec.gov/birdtesting, call 803-896-3802 or email vector@dhec.sc.gov.