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DHEC asks public to help track West Nile virus by submitting dead birds for testing

SC Department of Health and Environmental Control asks for certain species of dead birds to be submitted for laboratory testing.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is asking residents to help track West Nile virus (WNV) by submitting certain species of dead birds for testing at DHEC labs.

DHEC is looking for recently deceased crows, blue jays, house finches, and house sparrows that appear not to be injured and are not decayed. These species seem to be the most susceptible to WNV, which can be transmitted to humans and other animals through mosquito bites. Mosquitos feeding on infected birds will carry the virus in their blood. After one to two weeks, infected mosquitos can transmit WNV in their bites.

“Most people infected with WNV have no symptoms, and although the risk of serious illness is low, it is possible for potentially fatal inflammation of the brain to occur in infected people, a condition known as encephalitis,” said Dr. Linda Bell, DHEC State Epidemiologist. “The primary way to get West Nile virus is from the bite of an infected mosquito, which is why mosquito bite prevention and control are so important in reducing human exposures.”

Deceased birds may be submitted to DHEC through November 30. DHEC recommends residents should:

  • use gloves or pick up the birds with doubled, plastic bags. Do not touch a bird -- dead or alive -- with your bare hands
  • keep the bagged bird cool. if you cannot deliver the bird to DHEC within 36 hours of collection, freeze it until you are able to deliver it or have it shipped.
  • download and completely fill out a Dead Bird Submission and Reporting Sheet for West Nile Virus. Take the filled out form and the dead bird to a local DHEC Health or Environmental Affairs office during normal business hours. Use the interactive DHEC map to find a location near you. NOTE: WIC-only public health departments cannot accept birds.

In 2022, 78 birds were tested from 21 counties, 9 of which tested positive for West Nile virus and 2 of which tested positive for eastern equine encephalitis virus. These data may indicate mosquito-borne disease activity, but they rely on adequate numbers of dead birds being submitted. DHEC’s Mosquito-Borne Disease Viewer map shows current and historic county-level information for identified non-human instances of WNV and other mosquito-borne diseases.

DHEC does not perform mosquito control -- those programs are managed at the local level. Vector Control manages mosquito spraying in Richland and Lexington counties, and DHEC has a list of local mosquito control programs.

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