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Surveillance and testing for West Nile virus begins

Dead birds signal presence of the dangerous disease

Health departments in Bureau, Putnam and Marshall counties are now accepting dead birds for testing of West Nile virus.

According to a news release issued by the departments, collecting and testing dead birds is an important component of the West Nile virus surveillance program.

West Nile virus generally appears in birds and mosquitoes before it is transmitted to humans. Therefore, monitoring bird populations helps to predict when and where humans will be at higher risk for West Nile virus infections.

The public is encouraged to help locate birds that might have died from the disease. Sick birds or birds that have been dead less than 12 hours may be eligible for testing. To qualify for testing, birds must meet these guidelines:

• Birds must be dead less than 12 hours (fresh), and the carcass must not have obvious signs of trauma (struck by a vehicle, window, or animal attack), decay or strong odor. Birds dying from West Nile virus are usually found singly, scattered over a wide area. In contrast, birds that die from other causes (storm mortality, food poisoning, toxicants) often die in groups or clusters.

• Only adults should handle dead birds. Pick the bird up with gloves, tongs or a shovel. If you do not have gloves, insert your hand into a plastic bag like it is a glove, grasp the bird carefully and invert the bag over the bird. Each bird should be double-bagged in clear plastic bags.

In addition, the Bureau, Putnam and Marshall County Health Departments urge the public to take precautions to protect you and your family from mosquito bites.

Outbreaks of West Nile virus occur each summer in the United States, and warmer temperatures mean more mosquitoes. Take these common-sense precautions to minimize mosquito bites this summer:

• Avoid being outdoors at night and early morning, when mosquitoes are active.

• When outdoors during these times, wear light-colored clothing and apply insect repellent.

• Ensure that doors and windows have tight, properly fitting screens.

• Eliminate all sources of standing water that support mosquito breeding (such as bird baths, wading pools, flowerpots, tires, cans, buckets, clogged gutters, abandoned swimming pools, etc.) on your property. This is especially important because large numbers of mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus can emerge from even one shallow container of stagnant water.

For additional information regarding West Nile virus, or to submit a bird for testing, call the Bureau, Putnam or Marshall county health departments at 815-872-5091 or at 309-246-8074 to determine whether the bird is eligible before you touch or handle it.

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