As part of its annual surveillance program for the West Nile virus, the Allegheny County Health Department is calling on the public to report and submit certain dead birds for testing throughout the summer and early fall.
The reporting and testing of dead birds can help health officials track West Nile and determine where to focus mosquito control efforts. Mosquitoes and birds pass the virus to each other via mosquito bites. It is transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes but not by birds carrying the virus.
The public is asked to report and in some cases submit seven bird species for testing — crows, blue jays, hawks, owls, falcons, ravens and buzzards. In addition, five or more dead birds of any species found in one location should also be reported.
Dead birds can be reported to the Allegheny County Health Department by calling 412-687-ACHD or by visiting its web site at www.achd.net.
No birds have tested positive since 2006. One did that year, 3 each in 2005 and 2004, 5 in 2003 and 162 in 2002, when West Nile first appeared here in birds, mosquitoes and humans.
The surveillance program also includes the trapping and testing of mosquitoes. Fifty-eight mosquito samples tested positive last year, but only 2 in 2009, 28 in 2008, 19 in 2007, 11 in 2006, 28 in 2005, 3 in 2004, 16 in 2003 and 34 in 2002.
No human illnesses have occurred since 2007. One each occurred in 2007 and 2006, 6 in 2005, none in 2004, 10 in 2003 and 22 in 2002. No deaths have been reported since four victims died in 2002.
About 80% of those infected with West Nile do not get sick. When symptoms occur, they are usually mild and may include fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash.
Less than one percent of those infected with West Nile develop serious illness, such as encephalitis, which can be life-threatening.