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Counting dead crows

Island County Health Department has had some strange items in their department freezer lately, several stiff crows to name a few.

Health department officials have frozen these crows after islanders have called in and reported the dead birds, which seem to have no visible cause of death.

The health department is interested in these birds because they are one way of trying to track possible outbreaks of the West Nile Virus.

The West Nile Virus is an organism called a flavivirus which first affects certain types of birds, but then is transferred to humans and other animals through mosquito bites.

Mild symptoms of the virus are referred to as West Nile Fever. Symptoms may include fever, headache, back pain and muscle aches. Other symptoms are a lack of appetite, a sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

If an individual’s body is unable to fight off the virus, more serious symptoms may appear, such as muscle weakness, a stiff neck, confusion or a loss of consciousness. The most serious and life threatening forms of the disease are West Nile encephalitis or West Nile meningitis, which affects the spinal fluid and the brain, eventually causing death.

Online reports give anywhere from a 3 percent to a 15 percent death rate for people who become infected with the disease.

“As of yet, we have had no human cases of West Nile Virus in the State of Washington,” said Kathleen Parvin, environmental health specialist with the Island County Health Department.

In 2004, however, 10 states reported approximately 108 cases of the West Nile Virus, and as of July 12, the Center for Disease Control had reported 25 cases in 11 states.

Within Washington, several counties, including Island County, have diagnosed farm animals as having the virus.

“It is no longer a mater of if,” Parvin said, referring to Washington residents’ chances of being infected with the virus. “It’s a matter of when.”

To help the department track the West Nile Virus and affected birds, Island County Health Officer Roger Case said residents are asked to report any dead birds they find so that officials can collect these animals for disease testing and reports.

Parvin said if anyone finds a jay, raven, crow, magpie or any kind of raptor, all of which are most susceptible to the virus, that has no obvious cause of death, they should follow a few guidelines.

Carefully place the bird in a plastic bag without touching it, call the health department, give them a few details about the bird and where it was found, and then drop the bird by the department’s office or ask one of the department employees to come pick the bird up.

Aside from tracking the virus through dead birds, Parvin said the health department takes precautions and preventative measures against the virus by educating the community on mosquitoes, their habitats and ways to avoid them.

She said mosquito season starts in April or May, depending on the weather, and peaks from August to early September.

Preventative measures against the West Nile Virus and mosquitoes include using mosquito repellent with Deet; helping to eliminate mosquito breeding areas such as standing water in the yard, flower pots, drains, and tires and trash; installing and maintaining screen doors and windows; and limiting outdoor activity at dawn and dusk, which is when mosquitoes are most active.

Between the bird testing and the mosquito education, Parvin said she thinks Island County is on the right track for keeping track of the West Nile Virus.

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