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Why giving DHEC dead birds can help track West Nile virus in SC

File photo- DHEC is asking for dead birds to help track West Nile virus in South Carolina. Birds are the main carriers of the virus, with mosquitoes spreading the virus from crows, blue jays and ravens to humans and other animals.
File photo- DHEC is asking for dead birds to help track West Nile virus in South Carolina. Birds are the main carriers of the virus, with mosquitoes spreading the virus from crows, blue jays and ravens to humans and other animals. Ludington Daily News

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control wants any dead birds you might stumble across.

By submitting the dead birds to DHEC, it helps track West Nile virus in the state after officials perform tests on the birds.

"The dead bird surveillance program plays a key role in alerting the department to WNV activity across the state," said Chris Evans, a PhD State Public Health Entomologist with DHEC's Bureau of Environmental Health Services, in a news release. "The public's involvement with dead bird surveillance covers a wide area and helps identify West Nile virus before it shows up in people."

According to the release, mosquitoes become infected with the virus after feeding on infected birds that carry the virus in their blood. After a week or two, the infected mosquitoes can then transmit WNV to humans and other animals.

"A high death rate from WNV in birds alerts DHEC to virus activity in a particular area of our state," the release states. "This activity is then reported to local mosquito control programs so that appropriate action can be taken to help safeguard the health of local residents."

Officials say 49 birds submitted from 19 S.C. counties tested positive for the virus last year.

"Signs of WNV in birds include weakness, sluggishness, shaking, seizures, an inability to walk/fly/perch, blindness, or lack of fear of humans," the release says.

DHEC is asking the public to report and/or submit crows, blue jays, house finches and house sparrows that recently died to local offices. The birds should be non-injured, non-decayed and should be submitted between mid-March until November 30.

DHEC asks residents to not submit grackles, which are black or brown birds that look similar to crows but are much smaller, with a purple or green sheen to their head.

"When residents submit birds other than crows, blue jays, house finches, and house sparrows, DHEC will decide whether or not to test those birds on a case-by-case basis," officials said. "DHEC will not test birds that die as a part of a mass die-off at a single time and place. Mass die-offs are typically caused by something other than WNV."

Other types of birds from veterinarians affiliated with zoos, raptor rehabilitation centers and similar facilities will also be accepted if WNV is suspected to be the cause of illness.

DHEC officials say to safely collect a dead bird, you should:

  • Not touch it with bare hands and to wear gloves or pick it up with doubled, clear plastic bags covering your hands; seal the bird in doubled plastic bags
  • Keep the bagged bird cool until it can be placed on ice or in a refrigerator; if the bird carcass cannot be delivered to DHEC within 24 to 36 hours of collection, freeze it until delivery or shipment
  • Download and complete the DHEC Dead Bird Submission and Reporting Sheet for WNV and submit it, along with the dead bird, to your local DHEC office

To find your local DHEC office, click here.

Michaela Broyles: 843-626-0281, @MichaelaBroyles

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