The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has a unique program aimed at tracking the prevalence of West Nile virus (WNV) in the state. The agency relies on residents to report the discovery of dead birds in their yard as part of their Dead Bird Surveillance Program.
Why Dead Birds Matter
The Dead Bird Surveillance Program is a critical component of DHEC’s WNV monitoring and response efforts. Birds play a vital role in the virus’s transmission cycle, as they are one of the primary hosts for the mosquitoes that spread the disease. Mosquitoes that feed on infected birds can then transmit the virus to humans, horses, and other animals.
By collecting and testing dead birds, DHEC can identify areas where WNV activity is increasing, helping them to respond proactively and prevent the spread of the disease. Specifically, the agency looks for crows, blue jays, house finches, and house sparrows, as these species are more susceptible to WNV than other birds.
How to Participate
If you discover a dead bird on your property that fits the criteria for testing, there are a few steps you should follow:
Don’t Touch the Bird
It’s important to avoid direct contact with the bird, as dead birds can carry a range of diseases. Use gloves or double plastic bags to pick up the bird and avoid touching it with bare hands.
Keep the Bird Cool
To preserve the bird’s tissues for testing, you should keep it cool until it can be delivered to a DHEC office. You can do this by placing it on ice or in a refrigerator. If you can’t deliver the bird within 36 hours of collection, freeze it until you are able to do so.
Submit the Bird to DHEC
You can submit the bird to a DHEC Health or Environmental Affairs office during normal business hours, Monday through Friday. You will need to complete a Dead Bird Submission and Reporting Sheet for West Nile Virus, which can be downloaded from the DHEC website.
It’s important to note that not all DHEC offices can accept dead birds for testing, so you should check the agency’s interactive map of available offices before you go. Also, WIC-only public health departments cannot accept birds.
What Happens Next?
Once DHEC receives the dead bird, they will test it for WNV and other mosquito-borne diseases. If the bird tests positive for WNV, it indicates that the virus is active in the area where the bird was found.
DHEC uses this information to track the spread of WNV across the state, identify areas where mosquito control measures are needed, and provide public health education to residents in affected areas.
What You Can Do to Prevent WNV
While DHEC’s Dead Bird Surveillance Program is an important tool for tracking WNV, there are also steps you can take to prevent the spread of the disease:
Eliminate Standing Water
Mosquitoes breed in standing water, so it’s important to eliminate any areas of standing water around your home. This includes emptying bird baths, draining flower pots, and covering outdoor trash cans.
Wear Protective Clothing
If you’re spending time outdoors during mosquito season, wear long sleeves, pants, and socks to reduce your risk of mosquito bites.
Use Mosquito Repellent
Apply an EPA-registered mosquito repellent to exposed skin and clothing when you’re outdoors. Follow the instructions on the label for safe and effective use.
Keep Mosquitoes Out of Your Home
Install screens on windows and doors, and make sure they are in good repair to prevent mosquitoes from entering your home.
West Nile Virus is a potentially serious illness transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes. Although most people infected with WNV do not develop any symptoms, approximately 1 in 5 people infected with WNV will develop a fever and other symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. In rare cases, WNV can cause severe illness and death, especially in older adults or people with weakened immune systems. There is no vaccine or specific treatment for WNV, so prevention is key.
Prevention efforts include using insect repellent when outdoors, wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, and reducing the number of mosquitoes around your home by removing standing water where mosquitoes can breed. Residents are also encouraged to report any dead birds they find to the DHEC as part of their dead bird surveillance program.