7/22/02 - Testing for West Nile Virus

The West Nile virus is in the Heartland, with confirmed cases in birds in Southern Illinois and Southeast Missouri, and the discovery of the virus has people worried. In fact, some health departments have been flooded with calls from people who've found dead birds.

But does anyone who finds a bird need to call their health department? It depends on where you find them. If West Nile hasn't been discovered in your county, most health departments still want to hear from you, especially if it's a certain kind of bird.

Kevin Gillespie with the Jackson County Health Department says, "If you look at the distribution within the state there's no surprise it's being found elsewhere. I think we'll just keep seeing more and more activity." And the likelihood that more infected birds will be found, is the reason Gillespie says they're not testing any more birds. "At this point, we have had two positive birds that we have tested and we know that the West Nile virus is here, so there would not be a benefit of further testing."

The Jackson County Health Department isn't alone. In Southern Illinois, confirmed cases have also been found in Jefferson, Franklin, and Williamson counties. In Southeast Missouri, an infected bird was identified in Stoddard County. All the health departments in those counties are no longer testing birds. Once a positive bird is found, that's all health officials need to know. Testing only confirms there's a presence of West Nile in that county, it doesn't confirm how much. "As far as I know, it's not the dead birds that are the issue, it's the population of the virus within the bird population," Gillespie says. "The dead birds are only a surveillance tool to monitor that activity."

If an infected bird has already been found in your county, you should dispose of the bird properly. If you see a dead bird, don't touch it with your bare hands, wear gloves. Put it in a plastic bag. Either throw it away, or bury it deep enough that it's not exposed.

Again, infected birds have been found in Jefferson, Franklin, Jackson, and Williamson counties in Southern Illinois and in Stoddard County in Southeast Missouri. If you live in any other county, you're encouraged to call your health department if you see a dead bird, especially a crow or blue jay. But remember, birds die for lots of reasons. It's most likely not from West Nile, this time of year most birds die from the heat.