MADISON (WITI) -- To help track the West Nile virus (WNV) in Wisconsin, state health officials have reactivated the statewide, toll-free Dead Bird Reporting Hotline at 1-800-433-1610.
“Certain dead birds can act as an early warning system for West Nile virus activity in an area,” said Dr. Henry Anderson, State Health Officer. “Finding the virus in birds indicates that West Nile virus is present in the local mosquito population. This knowledge can be helpful in triggering special prevention and insect-control measures.”
Anderson said that anyone who sees a dead bird can call the hotline and arrange to have the bird tested for West Nile virus. Hotline staff can answer questions about dead birds and provide information on safe handling and disposal. People should not handle dead birds with their bare hands but should use gloves or a clean plastic bag to pick up the bird through the bag.
West Nile virus is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes get infected with WNV by feeding on infected birds and can then transmit the virus to other animals, birds, and humans.
Only one in five people infected with West Nile virus will have symptoms, which begin within 3 to 14 days and typically last a few days. Symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, swollen lymph nodes or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. In rare cases, West Nile virus can cause severe disease with additional symptoms, including muscle weakness, stiff neck, disorientation, tremors, convulsions, paralysis, coma, and potentially death. The elderly and people who have received a transplant may be at greater risk of developing severe illness. People who become ill and think they have West Nile virus infection should contact their healthcare provider for treatment of symptoms.
“The best way to prevent West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne infections is to prevent mosquito bites,” said Anderson. “Mosquitoes transmitting WNV breed in stagnant water, so it is important to eliminate standing water around homes and workplaces to reduce mosquito breeding sites and the risk of bites. Even small pools formed in any type of outdoor containers that can hold water, such as children’s toys, gardening pots, or discarded tires, can be breeding grounds.”
Other measures to help prevent mosquito bites include:
The Department of Health Services has monitored the spread of WNV among wild birds, horses, and humans since 2001. In 2002, the state documented its first human infections, with 52 human cases. This was followed by an average of 10 cases per year from 2003 to 2011. There was a significant increase in WNV illnesses in 2013 compared to previous years, with 57 cases of human WNV infections reported.