The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is seeking the public’s help in preventing the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses such as West Nile virus and chikungunya virus.
“Anyone can help us identify and track the arrival of West Nile virus by submitting dead blue jays, crows, house sparrows, and house finches for testing,” said Chris Evans, a Ph.D. entomologist with the DHEC Bureau of Laboratories.
“We are accepting submissions of birds and will continue to do so through Nov. 30,” Evans said. “We ask that, first, you review the submission directions and photos of birds that are found on our website at http://www.scdhec.gov/birdtesting. By following those instructions, you can safely pick up and transport a bird to the closest DHEC county public health department for testing.”
According to Evans, the public’s involvement with dead bird surveillance covers a wider area and helps to identify West Nile before it shows up in people. Birds that test positive for West Nile virus are reported to local mosquito control agencies so they can take appropriate action to protect public health. Mosquitoes feed on the blood of birds carrying West Nile virus and can subsequently spread the disease to humans.
“West Nile virus is an illness that can cause encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain,” said State Epidemiologist Linda Bell, M.D. “Most people infected with West Nile virus have no symptoms of illness. Less than one percent of those infected will develop a severe form of encephalitis, and this disease can be deadly, mostly among the elderly.”
Dr. Bell reports that another mosquito-borne illness, chikungunya virus, first appeared in South Carolina in 2010, diagnosed in a Midlands resident who had recently returned from a trip to India. Several additional cases have been diagnosed in South Carolina since then, but all cases were imported from outside the country. Florida is the only state to report a locally-acquired case of this illness.
“Chikungunya causes headache, fever, rash, joint swelling or muscle pain,” said Dr. Bell. “Unfortunately, there is no vaccine to prevent chikungunya; health care providers can only treat symptoms.”
Public health officials recommend the following tips to make areas safer and reduce the numbers of mosquitoes that might spread these and other illnesses:
- Remove buckets, cups, bottles, flowerpots, plastic bags, tires or any water-holding containers.
- Do not allow water to stagnate in low-lying areas of the yard, in boats or on tarps that cover yard items.
- Keep birdbaths and pet bowls clean by scrubbing them and flushing with fresh water at least once a week.
- Clean fallen leaves and other debris out of roof gutters and spouting.
- Make sure outdoor trash cans have tight-fitting lids. If lids are not available, drill holes in the bottom of the can to allow water to drain.