Trying to Track West Nile Virus

West Nile Virus

Nevada Agriculture Department is asking residents to take on a special assignment this summer, collecting dead birds.

There is no question about it, this will probably be one of the weirdest requests you'll get from a state agency.

But it’s in an effort to track West Nile virus.

As you know Nevada is one of only four states to not have had a case of West Nile virus. The disease is spread by mosquitoes, but it starts with an infected bird. One that might just keel-over in a backyard.

Which is why the Department of Agriculture is asking the public to collect dead birds.

Residents may already be bringing dead birds to the Ag Department, but, Dr. Rink says the fact is 90 percent of them cannot be tested. Dr. Rink says her department doesn't want just any bird - just those that are excellent hosts for West Nile virus,

These include:
* Crows
* Jays
* Magpies
* Hawks
* Ravens
* Blue Jays
* Eagles
* Buzzards
* Cardinals

Dr. Rink says the quality of the bird is critical for diagnosing purposes. That means it needs to have been dead for only a short period of time to get good samples of blood and other tissue.

A bird that's been lying around for a long time has some distinct characteristics and can't be used. These can include and decomposition or bad odor.

"Eye is sunken in, it’s been dead for a number of hours it is not a good specimen. If the body moves with the wing that means it’s in rigor-mortis and the sample is too old," says Rink.

If you think you've found a good specimen, say in your backyard, the Ag Department recommends putting your hand in a plastic bag and use it like a glove and pick up the bird. Using your free hand, turn the bag inside out over the bird, twist the bag's top and seal it.

State Agriculture officials will ask for your zip code to track where the bird came from.

When a bird tests positive to West Nile virus, the department will locate its zip code and be able to track the disease.

At that point they will no longer take birds from that particular zip code, but continue to track the disease progression by testing birds and making positive diagnosis from zip code to zip code.

If you feel more comfortable, you can use rubber gloves to make your initial inspection of the dead birds and subsequent pick-up.

And we sure to wash your hands afterward.

If you collect the bird at night or on weekends, you can refrigerate it in the plastic bag until Ag offices open. They operate Monday through Friday, holidays excluded.

If you'd like more information you can call Dr. Rink at 688-1182, extension 232.

If the family dog or cat brings in a dead bird, can the animal catch the disease that way?

I asked Dr. Rink that question.

She says infected birds will most likely hide and not provide a good chase for a pre-editor like a cat.

There is no evidence an infected pet can transmit the virus to humans. West Nile is spread to humans and horses after a mosquito feeds on an infected bird or animal and then feeds on you, or another bird or animal.